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Model Ethical Conduct in the Workplace

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Generally speaking, employees know that they should never do certain things at work. Not every situation is so clear-cut, however, which is why it's important for employers to implement ethical codes of conduct. Although not all-inclusive, these codes will guide employees through the many "gray areas" of working life as they come up. The result is a consistent promotion of accountability, honesty, integrity and open communication, which are the key values of a healthy workplace.

Accountability and Follow-up

A healthy workplace culture sets codes and standards for acceptable behavior, which managers reinforce through all levels of the organization. For new hires, the first exposure to the company's core values might come at orientation. To ensure that employees connect words and deeds, proactive companies implement follow-up procedures -- such as codes of conduct -- that outline the consequences for any violations. Managers should train employees to report unethical behavior, and follow up promptly when complaints surface.

Fair Allocation of Resources

Companies need to establish a link between ethical behavior and appropriate use of resources. Executive leaders have five key resources at their disposal: capital assets, information, money, people and time. Depending on how managers allocate these resources, different perceptions of equity and fairness may arise. Managers who make a point of trying to distribute all resources fairly are more likely to inspire appropriate ethical behavior among employees than those who pay lip service to the concept.

Open Communication

In a model ethical culture, managers expect employees to put what's right above their own interests and promote an atmosphere that encourages tolerance for people's views. The organization places a premium on open communication to accomplish its goals. Companies also emphasize that any self-serving actions -- such as intimidating employees from reporting ethical lapses to management -- won't be accepted. Failure to check these tendencies creates a divisive atmosphere that destroys trust and internal relationships.

Protecting Company Assets

An ethical workplace encourages employees to take a consistent line on protecting company assets, whether it's office supplies or an expense account that you're supposed to fill out honestly. When you see unethical actions, such as supply thefts, you feel empowered to report them -- because such behavior isn't tolerated. Rather than writing off such lapses as the cost of doing business, your employer shows that everyone will be held to the same standard.

Respecting Company Time

Respect is a two-way street, particularly when it comes to your employer's time. You shouldn't need a reminder that any personal Internet surfing at work is an ethics violation. Most employers have some type of policy to prevent an addiction to gambling, news or social networking sites from disrupting the workplace. You also accept that updating personal blogs, websites and social media accounts isn't sanctioned, unless it relates to your job.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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