Many organizations approach ethics by sponsoring an occasional one or two hour training session for their employees. It is almost as if we treat ethics like an inoculation: one shot and you are good for life! What we know about learning, however, is that it takes continued exposure to new material for it to become integrated into employee knowledge and behavior. The same principle is true also of ethics. This short article will suggest ways that ethics can be integrated into your existing employee processes.
Begin at the beginning: Include ethics in your recruitment and selection materials and processes. If the ability to reason through ethical problems is a part of the job, why not mention that fact in the position advertisement? As well, including simple ethical reasoning examples in the job interview can give you insight into your candidates’ ethical thinking as well as emphasize the importance your organization places on ethics.
Start employees out in the organization right: Include ethics information in the employee orientation materials. This may include a review of agency codes or state laws especially relevant to your agency as well as policies related to common ethical issues. These ethical issues will vary from organization to organization, but may include: the receipt of gifts, use of organization autos, computers or other equipment, financial disclosure requirements and nepotism rules. If your organization has whistle blower protections, include a review of those protections as well as information about how to report any ethical problems they encounter. Our employees get “oriented” to our organizations with our without our direction. Why not choose to set our employees on the right track from the beginning and add ethics to your orientation?
Keep employees talking about ethics: Integrate ethics into ongoing discussions in your agency or organization. Perhaps an employee newsletter can feature an “ethics column” that discusses common ethical dilemmas faced in your organization. Discussion of potential ethical dilemmas in work groups can help supervisors guide employees through ethical situations. As a manager, you may be blissfully ignorant about how your employees are “solving” ethical dilemmas. If you assume that everyone in your work group is reasoning the same way, you are likely to be unpleasantly surprised!
Finally, focus on ethics in training and development. Encourage supervisors and employees to identify additional ongoing training about ethics and make attention to ethics part of employee annual performance and development plans. Attention to these factors will help integrate ethics into all your organizational processes.