EngagementAn HR guide to workplace ethics

An HR guide to workplace ethics

HR professionals today continue to encounter many ethical and legal issues, many of which are preventable. To understand more about the implications and dangers, HRD Connect takes a deep dive into ethical issues in HR.

Gone are the days where a person would join a company purely based on salary. Many employees today now require knowledge on equal pay, confidential information, unconscious bias, and more.


Sexual Harassment issues

One of the major ethical issues to address is acting against workplace sexual harassment. According to studies by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), 79% of employees say that if a company fails to act against sexual harassment, they would not accept the job, even if they were offered higher pay.

“Our research finds that most employees will not accept a job with a higher salary from companies that fail to act against sexual harassment,” said Phillipa Foster Back CBE, Director, IBE, commenting on their findings.

“Upon discovering a company’s misbehaviour, most employees take action by privately protesting to a manager or supervisor.”

Businesses must continue to prioritise this cause, by ensuring that everyone’s disturbances are consistently heard. If sexual accusations do rise within their organisations, then employers must find out the circumstances and details about this incident, deal with it accordingly, and then understand how it can be prevented in the future.

“Companies must foster a safe and supportive work environment for all employees. Despite the social progress made in recent years, preventing sexual harassment in the workplace remains a real challenge for businesses,” said Phillipa.

Environmental issues

Environmental issues are a concern that many employees are beginning to ponder when looking for new opportunities. 72% of employees said that if a company created environmental problems, they would not accept the job.

“People want their workplace to have integrity and feel strongly that their company shouldn’t degrade the environment,”  continues Phillipa

“Environmental responsibility has significantly regained focus as an issue for the British public after falling sharply since 2008.”

Work-life balance

Studies by IBE found that work-home balance was also a common ethical issue.

“This issue has slightly increased in prominence since 2017,”

“Many organisations are actively attempting to recruit and retain talent by offering employees flexible working arrangements. However, the prominence of this suggests that members of the public may not yet be experiencing the benefits of this trend.”

Businesses that don’t classify work-home balance as an important aspect of work, could potentially be accused of causing ethical issues. This could also cause severe burnout amongst their workforce.

Additional key issues 

Paying female or ethnic minority employees less, selling user data without user’s knowledge, collecting sensitive data about customers, and preventing political beliefs in the workplace are also critical ethical issues for companies to routinely review. Further research by IBE also found that corporate tax avoidance and exploitative labour were stark concerns that needed addressing.

“Companies that foster dialogue around ethics will mitigate risk, strengthen employee relations, and promote a robust work culture.”

How can companies encourage an ethical workplace? 

Studies by IBE found that 38% of employees consider ethical standards to be the first or second most important workplace attribute. So, it is key that employers have the time and resources to regularly critique this part of their businesses.

For companies to maintain their values and ethics, people look to their leaders to enforce the change.

“As people look for change, they are increasingly turning to CEOs to lead it – from positive change on prejudice and discrimination, to training for the jobs of tomorrow, to sexual harassment,” said Phillipa.

Constant communication and improving the relationship between line managers and employees is of the utmost importance when considering workplace ethics. Not only can this increase awareness of ethics, but it can also improve workplace transparency.

By prioritising this, it would force people to speak up about these issues internally, instead of exposing these ethical difficulties to the public eye.

“Creating an ethics and compliance programme should be accompanied by specific training for employees. The surveys have shown that training, particularly on issues such as mental health and unequal pay are underdeveloped,” continues Phillipa.

“Creating more training opportunities is essential if employers want employees to live up to their organisation’s values.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Incorporating diversity into daily practices is key in making sure that everyone is treated fairly across the business. Working together to create an inclusive culture within a business, that fits everyone’s needs regardless of race, gender, or disability is important in helping a business manage various ethical issues.

“By working with colleagues to develop a list of company values and morals, HR professionals set the standard for diversity and inclusion in their organization,” continues Phillipa.

“This list will help professionals zero in on what’s important to their organization and hold employees accountable.”

HR professionals need to understand how large these tasks are. In handling ethical problems, HR managers need to appreciate the complexities involved and avoid an escalation of the issues at hand.

Although it’s important for businesses to constantly prioritise these aspects of work, research by IBE found that twice as many British people now believe businesses act ethically.

“This significant increase might be the result of an increased perception of uncertainty with regards to the current political situation, particularly influenced by Brexit negotiations,” said Phillipa.

“Now a greater proportion of the British public have confidence in British businesses to act ethically than ever before.”

While businesses continue to face many challenges in avoiding workplace ethical issues, if these are handled well, it can create a happier and more engaged workforce. Improvements in a happy workforce can be key to unlocking the full potential of a workforce – improving retention, increasing talent attraction, and improving workplace productivity. As businesses grow, maintaining values and ethics can become increasingly difficult. However, if this is well-maintained, it could be the key to success in the uncertain future of work.

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