In a recent survey of 5,000 employees, only 25% said they believe their co-workers will do the right thing and behave ethically, according to CEB, now part of IT research firm Gartner.
Workers don’t see the same level of integrity and ethical behavior in frontline employees as they do in their senior leaders and direct managers, the survey said. That’s an interesting perspective, given the recent scandals involving senior executives behaving badly. As HR and compliance professionals know all too well, ethical lapses can and do occur at every level in an organization.
Whether employees are frontline or corner office, it’s critical they understand how your organization’s Code of Conduct applies to their words and actions. By taking a fresh look at your code of conduct training, you may find that some relevant topics are missing or outdated. Or that new techniques and technologies are needed to better communicate your company’s expectations for ethical behavior.
How does your Code of Conduct training address these six common unethical behaviors?
Conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest arise in every organization – even the appearance of a conflict can present a problem. While they cannot be avoided, by disclosing conflicts of interest as soon as possible you can identify and manage them properly. Your Code of Conduct training should feature examples and scenarios depicting conflicts that relate to your industry, along with a clear explanation of the process that individuals should follow if and when they identify a conflict.
Protection of assets
Unless employees are aware that using company products and services for their personal use violates your Code of Conduct, they may not consider it unethical at all. Your Code and training should stress that all employees are responsible for protecting company assets, including supplies, software programs, printers, postage machines, computers and company vehicles.
Bullying and hostile environment
Bullying makes organizations weaker, not stronger. You can strengthen your Code of Conduct by including a specific policy against bullying, cyberbullying and retaliation. Your Code should also explain the procedures that employees can use to report incidents of bullying. These include both formal (such as an employee hotline) and informal (such as approaching the harasser to resolve the issue) procedures.
Violating social media and internet policies
The widespread use of social media creates additional risk in the workplace. To manage the risk, organizations should develop a social media policy and feature it prominently in their Code of Conduct and training. The policy should provide guidelines for what employees can and cannot say, show and share online. For example, employees can get into trouble with their personal use of social media when they reveal company secrets or confidential information, criticize or harass other employees, customers or competitors, misrepresent the views of the organization or endorse company products without revealing that they are employees.
An effective Code of Conduct conveys the importance of acting with respect and honesty toward others. Central to a respectful workplace is protecting the personal and confidential data of other employees and customers. Personal data includes Social Security numbers, home addresses, phone numbers and personal email addresses. Confidential information, which belongs to an organization and isn’t generally available to the public, includes intellectual property, contracts and agreements, supplier lists, internal communications, marketing plans and customer data.
Insider trading is not only unethical, it’s illegal. Can your employees identify information an investor might consider important in deciding whether to buy, sell or hold securities? Your Code of Conduct and training should clearly define what constitutes material information and nonpublic information, such as a pending merger and new product details.
Today’s business environment presents unprecedented ethical and compliance challenges for organizations. Keeping your Code of Conduct training up to date and relevant to your workforce is an important way to create and reinforce a culture of integrity and maintain a reputation for honesty and respect. Demonstrating to employees that ethical behavior is core to your culture is an ongoing process, requiring clear communication and the active participation of employees, managers and executives in every department.
For more information, visit our pages on Code of Conduct Training.