How to Prevent HR Incidents with a Company Culture of Ethics

How to Prevent HR Incidents with a Company Culture of Ethics

To stop harassment, discrimination and other misconduct before they start, hold employees accountable, get management on board and create a positive work environment.

People want to fit in with their peers; that's just human nature. That's why establishing a culture of ethics in your organization is so important. When employees see their managers and coworkers behaving ethically, they'll want to follow suit.

When you discourage misconduct, instead of just reacting when incidents occur, your employees will feel happier and safer and your company will face lower risk of incidents. Here's how a strong company culture helps you prevent HR incidents with ethics.

RELATED: Your Complete Guide to Establishing an Ethical Culture

Set your company's ethical tone in one document

A strong code of ethics outlines your company's ethical standards, gives employees guidance for their behavior in the workplace and shows that you're committed to ethical business. Download our free code of ethics template to start writing yours.

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Set the Tone at the Top

When employees aren't sure what to do at work, they'll look to their managers for answers. If management can make crude jokes or put people down in front of their coworkers, employees think they can, too.

An ethical company culture has to start at the top of your organization and work its way down. Managers should both "walk the walk" and "talk the talk."

First, they should talk about the importance of your company's ethics program with their employees and attend training on the same schedule as everyone else. They must also openly follow your HR policies regarding discrimination, bullying and other misconduct, modeling ethical behavior for lower-level employees.

RELATED: Ethics at the Top: How the C-Suite Affects Company Culture

Foster a Pleasant Work Environment

According to employment attorney Janette Levey Frisch, a culture of ethics:

  • "Keeps all employees (including senior management) accountable for their actions
  • Creates healthy relationships between employees
  • Helps employees feel valued"

When employees feel secure in their jobs and don't fear harassment or discrimination, they probably won't victimize their coworkers, either. A positive, ethical work environment lowers stress, making employees less likely to lash out or make a poor decision.

The ways you integrate your ethics program into the company's culture can help employees get on board.

For example, applying policies consistently shows that you value all employees equally. This fosters a sense of belonging and the desire to treat coworkers with respect. Implementing an ethics hotline and explaining your commitment to no retaliation makes employees feel safe speaking up when they witness an HR incident.

RELATED: 3 Critical Reasons to Establish a Culture of Ethics in Your Company

Make Ethics Everyone's Responsibility

In an ethical company culture, ethics doesn't just belong to one department. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior, and for calling out coworkers when they do something questionable.

To make this a reality in your organization, evaluate what Frisch calls the "ethical working self-concept: the degree to which employees make the organization's ethical values part of their concept of who they are and what is expected of them as members of the organization."

Are your core values and ethical standards just words in your policies? Or do you encourage employees to live them every day, in every task they complete? Do they sleepwalk through anti-harassment and discrimination training? Or do you plan initiatives and celebrations that help employees communicate better and celebrate diversity?

Put the power of prevention into employees' hands. They'll feel more inclined to follow your guidelines when they're presented as a way of life rather than a set of rules. In fact, that mutual trust should improve your company culture and work environment even more.

To effectively prevent misconduct, your ethical standards should be integrated into all internal documents and processes. Write or edit yours using our free policies and procedures template.

"As the [ethics] culture strengthens, employee conduct improves," according to ECI's 2021 Global Business Ethics Survey Report.

"Organizations with strong cultures are 467% more likely to demonstrate a positive impact on employees than organizations with weak-leaning cultures," according to the report. "This impact includes employees’ recognizing and adhering to organizational values, feeling prepared to handle key risks, reporting suspected wrongdoing, and reduced levels of misconduct overall."

When you focus on preventing HR incidents with ethics, you create a safe and positive workplace for all employees. Employee satisfaction and productivity should rise. Even better, you'll gain a reputation as a great place to work and a company worthy of customers' business.