The study of ethics is a field that existed long before the first corporation, assembly line, or training class. “Ethics” as a concept dates back to ancient philosophers like Socrates and Plato, but –– as any business leader can tell you –– ethics is a very modern concern for businesses. Instead of classic ethical conundrums (like if a starving man should steal a loaf of bread to feed his family), contemporary employees deal with ethical situations that arise around the workplace every day.
- Should a buyer source a product from a low-cost supplier in Southeast Asia known to employ child labor?
- Should an employee speak up if they, or someone they know, is a victim of harassment in the workplace or if they have a toxic supervisor?
- Should a plant manager accept a discount on a home remodel project from a contractor who is renovating the company warehouse?
These are the sorts of questions that matter to organizations, and they’re why progressive businesses strive to improve ethics training in the workplace. Workers in large companies with effective ethics programs observe misconduct significantly less than employees in companies without an effective ethics program.
More than just protecting businesses from dissatisfied employees or legal problems, ethics training is about what is fundamentally right and what is wrong. On that note, here are four ways that businesses can improve their workplace ethics training programs:
Tip #1. Develop a Code of Ethics
Along with your mission, vision, and values, your company should have a set code of conduct that everyone should follow. This code of conduct may include instructions for dealing with clients, coworkers, and vendors. It may have policies regarding anti-corruption, labor law, and environmental issues, and it must be accessible to all employees.
Professionals at every level ought to have an understanding of what is unethical behavior –– what crosses lines. Some issues, like harassment, will require specialized training. Harassment is both illegal and unethical and, unfortunately, is something that can occur in virtually any workplace. Anyone from an entry-level employee to a seasoned professional should be able to recognize what harassment looks like from a bystander’s point of view or that of a target. Everyone should understand the law and warning signs. Being able to determine potential harassment risks and understanding the causes of harassment in the first place can help leaders prevent it from occurring at all.
If your business doesn’t have a strong moral and ethical baseline, team members will naturally find it more difficult to navigate ethically gray areas.
Tip #2. Use Current, Relatable Content
Ethics training should apply to modern situations with real-life examples. Old training videos that feature dated law, language, or scenarios are unlikely to resonate with current employees or be effective in changing or guiding behavior. Staying with harassment training as the topic, any modern compliance training program will include state-specific topics for Connecticut, California, Maine, New York State, and New York City.
Ethics training is not static. Discussing issues like human trafficking, forced labor, and immigrant labor can help open people’s eyes. Injustices and ethical worries like these aren’t hypothetical or far away. They are in the daily news.
You may also consider offering training courses related to the ethical culture you are trying to develop. For example, if your company values diversity and inclusion, you may offer training courses on unconscious bias or cultural considerations to support the legal and ethical hiring and treatment of all employees from all backgrounds.
Tip #3. Reinforce the Training
Contrary to popular belief, it actually takes closer to 66 days, as opposed to just 21, to form a habit. In many senses, forming an ethical team is like developing a habit. A single ethics class is unlikely to influence employee behavior in the way managers want. For managers looking to truly help their employees adhere to a company’s ethical standards, reinforcement is required.
Offering a library of training videos for employees to watch at their own pace is a good start, but ethics training is the ideal topic for a blended-learning approach. Role-playing activities, ethical discussions, and conversations about real-life applications with instructors are impactful ways to make sure that workplace ethics training is reinforced.
Reviewing learning material via videos, quizzes, and exams days, weeks, and months after initial introduction will also help to fortify the lesson and move the information from short-term to long-term memory.
Tip # 4. Align Ethics with Company Culture
Company culture encompasses a business’s values, environment, people, practices, and personality. Ethics training is an important tool and should reflect the company culture.
If a company’s culture revolves around social responsibility and environmental sustainability, employees need to be trained on those topics. How can they ethically maintain a clean and green work environment? How to choose vendors whose processes align with the green values of the company?
How a group of leaders approaches ethics training says a lot about their priorities. Research shows that a company’s ethics is influenced heavily by its leadership. In a recent study, managers who modeled ethical behavior in the workplace experienced a significant reduction in workplace misconduct.
Benefits of Ethics Training
Ethics training itself is a subtle and nuanced process, but the benefits a company derives as a result of ethics training are obvious for all to see. Companies with strong ethical training programs are able to:
- Attract and retain talented employees
- Drive positive customer reviews
- Improve public image
- Create a better workplace environment
- Improve employee job satisfaction
Building an ethical business isn’t just about tangible rewards, though. It’s about creating a company environment that promotes employee safety and satisfaction. When professionals can speak to their company’s sense of right and wrong with confidence, then that business is on the path toward something special.
Looking for more ways to kickstart your training program –– specifically with an emphasis on business ethics? Then check out the following content for further reading:
- Just like ethics training, compliance training is about more than “ticking boxes.”
- Sexual harassment training is something that managers need to prioritize. Read more in our blog "Allegations of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: No, HR Didn’t Fail. WE did!"
- Your ethics training is one small component of your overall learning ecosystem. Learn more in our ebook "The Learning Ecosystem."