Ethics and Compliance Initiative Report: The Importance of Ethics Communications and Accountability

The Ethics and Compliance Initiative (“ECI”) continues to publish important surveys and studies.  In a recent report (available here), the ECI cited important research from its Q3 Global Business Ethics Survey (“GBES”) demonstrating the value of ethical communications and trust in an organization.  In particular, the ECI study found that:

  • Employees are 11 times more likely to speak up when faced with witnessing wrongdoing in the workplace where the company proactively communicates about ethical conduct;
  • Conversely, fewer than 4 in 100 employees whose managers and supervisors fail to demonstrate accountability also feel that those managers demonstrate respect for their employees; and
  • Employees are 15 times more likely to believe that their organizations reward and measure ethical behavior when they see consistent, regular communication from upper management on issues like trust and ethical conduct.

Ethical Communications: ECI’s report notes that leaders and managers at all levels of a company  have to communicate their expectations as to the standards of ethical conduct.  This message is critical and has to be reinforced at every level of leadership.

An important part of this message also has to focus on employees raising concerns.  Leaders should encourage employees to raise concerns and speak up when they are aware of potential misconduct.  As part of this message, leaders have to reiterate, as often as possible, the company’s zero tolerance policy to prevent retaliation against employees who speak up.

Workplace Trust:  To instill workplace trust, ECI observes that managers and supervisors must demonstrate accountability.  A manager must be willing to accept responsibility for their own mistakes.  Most importantly, senior managers have to take ownership of their own actions and not blame others when things go wrong.

Managers and supervisors have to engage their employees with honesty and integrity.  In doing so, they have to listen to their employees and express empathy and care for their well-being.  A manager has to be skilled at making employees feel that their opinions and observations matter and that they are valued at the company.

To this end, it is critical for employees to believe their top management is open and honest, and act with integrity.  Supervisors have to communicate their care for their employees, and employees have to feel that their concerns have been heard by their supervisors.

The ECI study found that 50 percent of employees in the United States believe that proactive ethical communications are present in their organization.  At the same time, 43 percent of employees believe the same about workplace trust.

ECI concludes that proactive communications consists of speaking about ethics and a culture that encourages speaking up.  When these elements are not present, employees generally feel the company lacks an ethical culture and places no value on speaking up.

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