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What Is Cultivating Ethical Culture at a Workplace?

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There is not an exact definition to describe what cultivating an ethical culture in the workplace is because all workplaces have slightly different goals and responsibilities, but there are some overriding themes. An ethical workplace culture is one where owners, managers and employees support ethical values, adhere to legal business practices and encourage appropriate behavior between co-workers, management, customers and clients. Unethical behavior isn't tolerated and often results in strong reprimands by upper management or termination if the offenses are illegal, detrimental to the reputation of the company or repeated.

Lead by Example

Creating a work environment that supports and encourages ethical behavior almost always starts at the top and trickles down. Charles Kerns, associate professor of applied behavioral science at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management, has more than 30 years of experience and encourages executives and managers to attend new employee orientations and publicly express their support of the company's core ethical standards. Cultivating a sense of ethical responsibility requires leadership to model the practices they want their employees to follow.

Accountability Never Hurts

Employers, managers and employees who cultivate ethical workplace cultures ensure the lines between right and wrong never cross or blur. Managers might ask employees to recheck and edit each other's work to ensure there are no discrepancies, or they might purchase double-entry accounting software to verify financial transactions. Business owners help promote ethical workplace cultures by giving employees tools and safeguards that make accountability easy. For example, a bank owner might establish policies that require managers to recount employees' cash drawers and vault deposits. Managers can assure employees that it's a matter of principle, not an issue of trust, to make sure all funds are properly accounted for.

Day In and Day Out

An ethical workplace culture is only possible when senior executives, managers and employees practice ethical behavior on a daily basis. A healthy culture can't thrive where workers sometimes choose the high road but often compromise those values when the road gets muddy or rocky. Without consistency and reliability, a company will have the reputation for being "somewhat honest" or "fairly dependable" at best. Nurturing an ethically responsible and morally honorable workplace requires steady, persistent, wholesome decisions and practices.

All It Takes Is a Good Spanking

Cultivating an ethical workplace culture means that inappropriate behavior or misconduct will not be tolerated. Many employers hope their workers will conduct business on the up and up because they have intrinsic values that support honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and respect. Nonetheless, written policies with subsequent consequences are often needed to address inappropriate workplace activities, should they occur. For example, an employer might establish dress code requirements, smoking policies, break room rules, parking restrictions and tardy or absence policies. Employees who break those rules might receive a pink card, reprimand from the boss or a negative mark in their personnel file. The goal is to cultivate an ethical workplace environment but policy enforcement is often necessary to ensure compliance, especially for workers who press the limits.


As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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