What makes a workplace an ethical workplace? “Ethics” invokes thoughts of someone knowing and acting on what is right or fair. This is true even when thinking about an organization. The concept of ethics sits on a basis of common understandings of four areas: Transparency, Honesty, Confidentiality, and Protection of Rights.

Transparency deals with the level of trust in the stakeholder / organization relationship. Being transparent means a company is committed to releasing detailed information about their processes and transactions to stakeholders: those individuals who have an interest in the company’s performance. A natural progression of transparent actions and communications is that when actions are not able to be measured there is an inherent trust that the company is doing the right thing.

Honesty is something with which everyone is familiar. In business it focuses on an obligation to truthfulness and fairness. Two items come to mind with thinking about business honesty. The first is of an organization that is free from conflicts of interest. These conflicts stem from those persons or organizations involved in a decision or situation that have different interests in the outcome and/or stand to gain more than the other. A common example of this is when a leader gives a business deal to a vendor who just so happens to be owned or run for someone personally close to the leader – say, a friend or relative. The second thought is of an organization free from bribery. We all know what this means; we see this in movies and on TV. Someone exchanges something of value for preferential treatment or greater influence in their favor. A common cinematic example is when organized crime bribes police officers with cash in exchange for the police turning a blind eye.

Confidentiality focuses on how an organization treats personal, private, and protected information. It means an organization strives to protect the information of its partners, processes, employees, etc., and prevents this information from becoming public knowledge. This can be shown in what measures are taken to proactively protect a company’s information (strength of their IT security strategies) and the conduction of the daily activities (will a manager discuss a personal employee issue within earshot of inappropriate parties?).

Protection of Rights relates to a company’s employees. Employee protection has three dimensions.

• The first is creating a safe working environment. This means the employer is proactively taking steps to prevent any illness or injury within the work environment as well as the prevention of workplace violence. Right now, this comes in the form of wellness programs and zero-tolerance workplace violence policies.

• The second way is ensuring a fair work environment. Some examples of this include impartial recruitment practices and compensation structures that follow local regulations.

• The final method is the protection of employee privacy. Protecting employee’s personal situations, information, and actions from being viewed by inappropriate parties. It is important to understand where the boundaries lie between private and public material. A common example of this is that it would be unwise to monitor private text messages sent / received on personal devices but, if the need presents itself, it is reasonable to investigate emails sent via a company email on a company computer.

To close, leaders of an ethical company need to ensure that their employees’ communication and work meet the set ethical standards. Establishing codes of conduct and training platforms are two examples of how this is done. Codes of conduct are the written commitment to ethical behavior and definition of behavioral expectations for all employees. Training platforms serve as guidance tools employees can use to learn the company’s standards (usually at orientation) as well as a reference to judge future actions. Everything put together, this outlines the understanding of a company’s ethics, the acknowledgment of the defined ethical standards, and the training for common understanding and action reference.


Author Profile

Lauren Lynch
Lauren Lynch
Lauren Lynch has a collective 13 years of experience in Human Resources. She completed her undergraduate work at Arcadia University where she earned a Bachelors in Sociology with a double minor in Psychology and Anthropology. While earning her degree she also worked as an intern in Human Resources. Lauren has worked in HR under various industries to include Cable Communications, Technology, and Healthcare and has had a hand in recruitment, coaching and training, onboarding, employee events, benefits, policy, performance management, employee relations, etc. To continue her education Lauren completed her executive education at the University of Notre Dame. The 12-month program included certification classes to elevate skills in leadership and management. This is Lauren’s first time writing business articles and is eager to continue sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experiences.