Honesty, ethics and integrity in the new workplace
2nd Nov, 2021
The problems of honesty, ethics, and integrity in the workplace has undergone mutations, slipping under the radar and leaders need to be able to spot them.
- The protracted COVID-19 experience has compelled a pace of nimbleness with regard to behavioural unlearning and learning, as well as the revisitation of policies and procedures, in response to shifting and unpredictable external situations, that’d have been unimaginable in a pre-pandemic ecosystem.
- The ability of whole departments and organizations to transition from WFH to RTO to Hybrid, along the slide-rule of the various modes of working, with the attendant calibrations of crisis management SOPs, safety protocols and employee policies – all these, and more, have now become normalized.
- There is, however, the continued risk that when it comes to honesty, ethics and integrity in the emergent workplace, company leaders are still blind-sighted.
- These three constructs collectively denote an intrinsically motivated need to follow set rules, code of conduct, and ethical principles, that organizations and their employees take a firm stand to adhere by, irrespective of external circumstances.
- A case in point is the mandate of providing equal opportunity to all employees, regardless of caste, creed, socio-economic background, gender and sexual orientation.
- The intention behind this is to create a culture of candour and transparency, enabling individual teammates to share feedback with each other or escalating grievances to the management, without the fear of retribution or being judged.
- And much like the virus, the old issues around honesty, ethics and integrity have also undergone mutations, in the new paradigm – and therefore succeed in slipping under the radar.
Value of honesty
- Effective leaders are generally viewed as honest by employees. They keep everyone abreast of what is going on within the organization — good and bad. Leaders who cover all sides are much more appreciated than leaders who conceal information that could easily be communicated.
- However, in the long term, honesty carries the day, gains stronger support from employees and allows the right solutions to be applied to resolve problems.
- Another important outcome from honesty is that it builds trust, one of the most critical elements of solid leadership activities. Survey after survey shows that a low trust factor stifles relationship building and follow ship.
- It is displayed and built on personal behaviour, the quality of decisions and open and honest communication by a leader.
Power of ethics
- One definition of organizational ethics says it is the rules of conduct reflecting character and sentiments of the organization. Ethics then helps to establish standards of honesty, loyalty and fairness within the organization.
- Companies find that ethical business practices increase their competitiveness in their respective industries, helping to further substantiate the notion that a culture of ethics is crucial to sustainable excellence.
- Forced remote working modes of operation and the increasing use of technology in the wake of the pandemic have led to a wide-scale digitization of the workplace and its processes, and with it, undoubtedly, greater transparency.
- For instance, in many organizations, online meetings are recorded, as trail, evidence and future use of the key discussion points and decisions (obviating the need for scribes and wordy minutes), and for reference by people who have missed the session. Given this approach, compared to the in-person meetings in a pre-pandemic scenario, all participants, especially managers, are far more aware of the tone, messaging, and non-verbal aspects of their own communication during such meetings.
- This enhanced transparency notwithstanding, the cumulative result isn’t unfortunately an eradication of the age-old problems of nepotism, bullying, harassment and discrimination.
There are some of the key warning signs that leaders can sensitize themselves towards:
- Increased absenteeism
- Increased criticism of an employee in meetings or other group settings
- Being singled out on flaws in comparison to others
- Being passed over for upcoming projects or roles, without any rational explanation
- Being put down in front of the team, through derogatory or sarcastic comments
- Being heavily micromanaged
- Consistent underperformance, quite possibly as a direct outcome of stress
- Recurring instances of depression and other mental health issues
Issues or challenges
- Pandemic has brought in tremendous amounts of uncertainty, and social disconnect amongst people.
- Enforced remote work, social distancing and isolation, wage cuts, and job insecurity have exacerbated the levels of loneliness, stress, and depression amongst many.
- The very same technology-reliant, new modes of working that have led to greater digitization and transparency, can actually inhibit clear means of detection of issues such as discrimination or bullying.
Suggestive measures that may help navigate some of these new challenges:
- Revisit existing company policies and SOPs, especially in the HR domain, and create content to incorporate online behaviours.
- Chart out online work etiquette to be followed across the organization.
- Conduct regular town-hall meets and workshops around online workplace bullying, discrimination, harassment, etc., to bring out about greater awareness of what otherwise would not be considered as unethical.
- Conduct regular courses on online ethical work practices, diversity, equity and inclusion, as mandatory training for all employees.
- Engage psychologists to conduct training to the HR team, to create a greater awareness of mental health issues in the workplace.
- Manage micro aggression by discussing its subtle signs, and encouraging employees to speak up, e.g., through enterprise-wide surveys or an online platform, for people to communicate their concerns and find solutions together, both anonymously.
- Provide mental health services to employees, where they can safely and anonymously address their concerns – this can be through EAPs and curated group and individual counselling programmes.
- Establish a regular cadence of feedback from employees about workplace culture, backed up by a demonstrated commitment to act on serious concerns.
A new code of good online work practices is essential, if companies are to create a psychologically safe, inclusive, and empathetic work environment in the new paradigm. But this also requires a new mind set for leaders, and new frames of reference through which to view the post-COVID workplace.