Work Ethics & Workplace

We often talk about work ethics and employee contribution towards the success of an organization. It is important to understand what we mean by these issues. Why some organizations have better work culture than others?

Do modern organizations need to consider something specific to revive their work cultures? To learn all this, we must look at the problem of ‘work ethic’ and then try to apply it in the culture of an organization.

What is Work Ethic?

The dilemma of ‘work ethic’ is ubiquitous, but it has come to the focus since the turn of the millennium as scandals came up that have sunk the entire organizations, such as those associated with Enron and WorldCom. Ethics has now become a compulsory subject in many professional courses. Still, people find it perplexing to face the challenges they call ‘work ethic’.

Max Weber first coined the term work ethic in 1904. He said that it did not matter whether you were a woodcutter or a farmer, you could still find solace if you did your duty perfectly. There are genuine virtues such as hard work, frugality, honesty, perseverance and integrity that form the core of work ethic.

All the values included in the set of ‘work ethic’ require us to have a degree of self-sacrifice, or dedicating ourselves to the task.

Something Bigger Than the Self

When an organization wants to talk about the issues around work ethic, they will first need to ask how the organizational culture is contributing. People will only offer their best when they dedicate them to a cause which they believe in. They must see something, which is bigger than they are.

Organizations will need to understand this unspoken need of employees for something bigger, if they really want to see people come to work and give their best unconditionally. Hence, organizations need to define their vision, mission and strategies, which motivate the people. It is known as the benevolent intent of the organization.

People, who are motivated, often find passion to work for their companies. These people come to work with an intent to let their organization achieve its goals, to support their peers and the organization for success, to empower their juniors and to grow themselves.

When employees feel that they are working for a greater purpose, they will automatically seek to maximize their own contribution. They feel their importance of their contribution to the organization. They will not feel that they are just working for the sake of compensation and it is a big achievement for the organization.

Conducting Personal Business during Office Time

Employees often spend most of their weekday hours on the office job. Sometimes, they often may be tempted to do personal business during office hours. Such practices can include setting up doctor's appointments using company phones, making tour-package bookings using their employer's computers or sometimes arranging calls for a side freelance business during office time.

Business during Office Time

The imminent ethical dilemma is quite clear – the employees are abusing their employer to conduct own business on company time. However, what if you know that your children are ill? Is it then fine for you to go for a doctor's appointment using company lines? The most common rule of thumb is, therefore, to check with the HR managers or supervisors to get an idea of what counts as an offense according to the company policies.

Taking Credit for Others' Work

Employees often have to work in teams to make up marketing campaigns, or develop new products for sale or fine-tune creative services, yet everyone in a group do not contribute equally to the final product. If two members of a three-person team did all the work, will this mean that, these two people need to demand to receive proper credit while pointing out that the particular member did not do anything.

This is a very simple yet a thorny question. Singling out co-workers in a negative light could stimulate dislike. A similar thing could happen if all employees accept equal share of honor even when only a select few did the real work.

The best way to resolve this kind of issues is not to let it happen in the first place. Team members should ensure that all members of a team perform some tasks to help complete a project.

Harassing Behavior

Employees often do not understand what they should do if they see one of their co-workers harassing another, either mentally, sexually or physically. Employees have to worry for their jobs while attempting to report a superior for harassment. They may fear that they might be labelled a troublemaker if they report inappropriate behavior.

The best way rests with the staff members who generally develop the company's employee handbook. It is their job to tell employees that, they will not be penalized for reporting the harassing behavior or inappropriate actions.

The Solutions to Workplace Dilemmas

Morality and value-based issues in the workplace are often difficult to handle when the employees need to choose between the right and wrong by their own principles. Smart employers who know how to implement workplace ethics policies are usually well prepared for the potential conflicts of interest of opinion, values and culture in the workforce.

However, managing ethical issues requires a steady and cautious approach to matters, which can potentially be dangerous or illegal.

Step 1: Documenting the Issues

  • Develop a workplace policy depending on your company’s philosophy, mission statement and conduct guidance.

  • Incorporate the policy into your performance management program to hold employees accountable for their actions.

  • Alert the employees to their responsibilities to follow professional standards in their job performance and interaction with peers and supervisors.

  • Revise the employee handbook to include any missing policy and provide revised handbook to employees.

  • Obtain written acknowledgement from employees that they have received and understood the workplace ethics policy.

Step 2: Training and Guidance for Up-Keeping Values

  • Provide ethics training to employees.

  • Provide instructions in learning how to address and resolve ethical dilemmas.

  • Experiential learning, or role-play, may be used as an effective way to facilitate workplace ethics training.

  • Provide examples of workplace ethics simulations, such as misappropriation of company funds, improper workplace relationships etc.

Step 3: Taking Effective Measures

  • Designate an executive in-charge of handling employees’ concerns pertaining to workplace ethics.

  • Consider whether your organization also needs an ethics hotline, a confidential benefit service for employees to contact whenever they need.

  • Confidential hotlines assure employees’ anonymity, which is a concern for “whistle blowing” actions.

Step 4: The Legal and Private Angle

  • Research and apply federal, state and municipal labor and employment laws pertaining to whistle blowing.

  • Refrain from making suspension, termination decisions, in connection with whistle blowing or when employee’s right is protected under whistle blowing laws or public policy.

  • Look for legal advice for the employee reports of workplace ethics issues that may increase your organization’s legal liability.

The Legal Angle

Under the Texas Whistleblower Act, public-sector employees may be entitled to damages if an employer engages in retaliatory actions based on an employee who, in good faith, files a complaint related to workplace ethics.

The Act grants "[a] public employee who claims that his suspension, termination, or other adverse personnel action was in retaliation for his good faith reporting of violations of the law the right to sue for damages and other relief."

Step 5: Keeping the Standard Intact

  • Apply workplace policy consistently while addressing employee concerns about workplace ethics.

  • Use the same standard in every circumstance, regardless of the perceived intention, seriousness or the position of employees involved.

  • Communicate the same rules for all employees – whether executive or front-line production roles.

  • Approach every issue with equal interpretation of the company policy.

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