Written by: Christine Marah
Ethics, what is it? Everyone perceives it differently. What might be considered ethical to one individual may be considered unethical to someone else. An issue that organizations often encounter is determining whether an employee’s actions are ethical or unethical. Ethics Resource Center (ERC) is a nonprofit research organization that has been focusing on the ethics department in both public and private organizations for over 88 years (Harned, 2012). A conclusion that was drawn from one of ERC recent surveys was that within the past year, about 3,000 United States employees witnessed ethical misbehavior (Millage, 2005). Another observation that was drawn from the same survey, was that there is a strong connection between an organization’s overall ethical culture, and the conduct of its employees. Seventy percent of employees employed within an organization with a weak ethical culture either witnessed and/or experienced ethical misbehavior in the past year, while only 34% of employees within organizations with a strong ethical culture reported witnessing ethical misbehavior (Millage, 2005).
Every organization has an obligation to make sure they are legally compliant with the current laws. Teaching what is considered ethical and unethical can be nearly impossible. The Chairman of the Board of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine, stated “We don’t teach ethics, we teach ethics awareness” (Trevino, Weaver, Gibson, & Toffler, 1999). A challenge that knowledgeable managers are beginning to face is how to create awareness about ethical and legal matters (Trevino et al., 1999). Unfortunately, organizations can not expect that every employee is knowledgeable with the current laws and regulations that are related to their job title (Trevino et al., 1999). Since organizations understand that not every employee is knowledgeable of the current laws and regulations, they began to create an ethics and legal compliance program (Trevino et al., 1999).
Ethics and Legal Compliance Program
About 10,000 employees who are employed by one of the six largest American companies were sent a questionnaire to their home asking: “What works and what hurts in corporate ethics/compliance management?” (Trevino et al., 1999). According to the results from the survey, the best approach to the ethics and legal compliance program was a values-based approach (Trevino et al., 1999). A values-based approach includes making sure every employee is being treated equally, rewards for ethical behavior, and making sure leaders are following through with policies, actions, and proceeding with the proper consequences for unethical behavior (Trevino et al., 1999). With the values-based approach, leaders of the organization have seen a positive change in the employee attitudes and behaviors (Trevino et al., 1999). The main observed outcome from the positive change in the employee attitudes and behaviors were an increase in commitment to the organization, awareness of ethical issues, reporting ethical and unethical behaviors amongst co-workers (Trevino et al., 1999). Also, when employees are aware of the current ethical and legal issues taking place, they are more prone to follow the proper procedure when they either witness or experience any illegal or unethical behaviors (Trevino et al., 1999).
Bullying in the Workforce
Should there be legal actions against bullying? By definition bullying is considered to be a person that treats a smaller/weaker person in a hostile, overbearing, or threatening manner (“Bullying,” 2003). Sadly, we hear of bullying becoming more common with the younger generation. With the results of the younger generation bullying their classmates at school, more children to young adults are committing suicide over it. Sadly however, who would have thought that bullying would continue from grade school to the workforce. Sexual harassment, discrimination, and favoritism, are the most common types of bullying that employees tend to worry about in the workforce. When sexual harassment comes to mind, we automatically think about how horrifying the situation is along with the health and mental issues this may cause. Over the past 21 years, there were 110 studies conducted comparing the effects of employees well-being after experiencing bullying and sexual harassment in the workforce (Zeidner, 2008). The study found that employees who experienced bullying had a decrease of commitment to the organization and an increase in stress, anger, and anxiety compared to employees who experienced sexual harassment (Zeidner, 2008). Any type of unethical behaviors will cause a rippling effect on an individual, whether the action is committed in the workforce or outside. Since, there are no legal ramifications against bullying, a consequence of an employee bullying their co-worker would be that the co-worker will become less committed to the organization, which will decrease their job performance and eventually end up quitting (Zeidner, 2008). Every employee works differently under certain circumstances. Some employees’ job performance increases while under stress and some employees’ job performance decreases while under stress. But, the cause of stress is different. With a co-worker being bullied by an employee, the co-worker will experience an increase in stress, anger, and anxiety levels, ultimately harming the co-workers physical and mental health conditions (Zeidner, 2008). Some types of physical health conditions the co-worker may encounter are an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. A decrease in mental health caused by stress could eventually turn into depression. Although, there are currently no legal consequences against bullying, every organization must classify bullying as an unethical and intolerable behavior and approach bullying in the ethics and legal compliance program.
Whether a business is considered as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, all businesses have an equal obligation of making sure it is compliant ethically and legally. Also, each form of business is liable for any misconduct of an employees’ action on the job. The leaders and human resource department has a responsibility of making sure that the organization as a whole is operating ethically and legally. It is an essential for the leaders and the human resource department to make sure every employee fully understands the proper behaviors pertaining to their job. Additionally, each employee must be aware of the consequences of unethical and illegal behavior.
Bullying. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.
(2003). Retreived April 7 2013 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bullying.
Harned, P. J. (2012). About ERC. Ethics Resource Center. http://www.ethics.org/page/about-erc
Millage, A. (2005). Ethical Misconduct Prevalent in Workplace. The Internal Auditor, 62 (6), 13,15. http://search.proquest.com.huaryu.kl.oakland.edu/docview/202748581?accountid=12924
Trevino, L. K., Weaver, G. R., Gibson, D. G., & Toffler, B. L. (1999). Managing ethics and legal compliance:
What works and what hurts. California Management Review, 41 (2), 131-151. http://search.proquest.com.huaryu.kl.oakland.edu/docview/216150439?accountid=12924
Zeidner, R. (2008). Bullying worse than Sexual Harassment? HR Magazine, 53 (5), 1.