“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
This little piece of wisdom from the American business magnate and investor Warren Buffet pretty much sums up the way companies today must build a solid foundation of ethics.
Every decision taken at the business table can either propel an organization towards success or ruin its reputation. A major chunk of this responsibility lies in the hands of the employees – right from the C-suite executives down to the workers on the sales floor.
When a company hires unethical candidates or fails to identify current employees that engage in unethical activities – it ends up putting its brand reputation on the line.
Let’s say, for the sake of example, a company fails in its sanction screening process and employs an overly ambitious business executive who resorts to questionable practices solely for the sake of profits. While the company does notice an inflow of money, the long-term result, unfortunately, is short-lived.
Sooner or later, these practices come to the surface, damaging the executive’s reputation and scarring the company’s image along the way.
What exactly are the traits that sum up an ethical person?
Quite simply, these ethical qualities include:
- Responsibility. A responsible and passionate employee is someone you would count on at any time. This employee takes the company’s well-being seriously and contributes huge mountains of effort toward the company’s success.
- Honesty. An ethical person would always place importance on honesty even if they make a mistake they might be responsible for.
- Loyalty. From bad-mouthing their company to revealing sensitive company to outsiders for financial gains – a disloyal employee can be insidious for an organization.
- Integrity. Important positions within the organization often demand decisions based on integrity.
- Accountability. An accountable person does not hesitate to hide their mistakes. Instead, they hold themselves accountable and strive to correct them.
Examples of Ethical Qualities that Ethical Employees Possess
Sure, striving to transform your company into an ethical business is a noble undertaking. But the endeavour demands a long-term commitment. Most businesses, unfortunately, put the spotlight only on profits. However, it is more than possible for a business to be both ethical and successful.
An almost invisible line separates financially driven businesses from businesses that try hard to make decisions that don’t negatively impact others. Ethical employees are the greatest contributors to ethical businesses. Here are a few of the many examples of ethical qualities and traits that are ingrained in ethical employees:
1. Ethical Employees Treat Everyone Equally
Treating people well is one of the most critical qualities of being ethical. Sure, an employee would treat a prospective customer with respect. But would they offer the same treatment to a customer who decides to go with a competitor? Would they treat those below their stature the way they treat their manager or peers?
How well your employees act can either take your business to the top of the hill or let it tumble down into the trenches. Cultivating an ethical culture, more often than not, starts with hiring.
If an applicant, for instance, is still in the interview stage, you can take them to lunch and observe how they treat the cashiers or servers. For current employees, try observing if they give vendors the same amount of respect that they give to potential customers.
2. Ethical Persons Aren’t Afraid to Speak Up
It’s often “easy” for an employee to let something “slide” even though it doesn’t “feel” right. But an employee who puts ethics above everything else wouldn’t hesitate to speak up.
Of course, there is a clear distinction between employees who complain about everything under the sun and employees who voice their honest opinions when asked. These are the employees who would call a spade a spade instead of cherry-coating things. They are the ones to point out the ethical dilemmas that nobody might notice or talk about.
3. They Lead by Example, Always
The task of leaders doesn’t just end at communicating their expectations with their teams. Leaders must also by example. This means expressing the actions and performing the duties you ask your employees to uphold.
By walking on the same ethical path that you lay out, you can help your employees understand that you value everyone in the workplace.
4. Ethical Employees are Passionate About Their Job
Employees that are passionate about their jobs often go beyond the “set of tasks they’re assigned”. They take complete ownership of their jobs and consistently prove their reliability.
Conscientious employees also strive to be conscious of the business, emotional, and financial repercussions of their actions. Research shows how the conscientiousness of an employee is directly linked with better moral reasoning, lowering their chances of unethical behaviour.
They show their loyalty by being highly productive at work and taking decisions that align with their company’s best interests. By taking their job very seriously, they display heightened employee maturity. They prove they can perform their tasks perfectly without needing strict supervision.
5. They Consistently Put their Ethical Foot Forward
Being ethical is not a one-time performance. It is something that is engraved within a person. Sure, it is easy to say only the right things in the presence of a boss. But how would your employees behave if no one is watching?
Consistency is the cornerstone of ethical behaviour. Ethical employees would behave ethically consistently, whether someone is watching them or not.
Choose not to drink during a company party to observe how employees behave when everyone is together, drop in unannounced during meetings, or join a sales rep to notice how they handle complaint calls. Regardless of the circumstances employees are in or where they are, ethical employees will always behave ethically.
6. Ethical Persons are Morally Attentive
The moral attentiveness of an employee determines how deeply they spot and understand the many ethical dilemmas that come their way.
A morally attentive employee has the ability to spot a dilemma that nobody else might notice. Building a solid culture of ethics can only begin if your employees have the capacity to become aware of ethical dilemmas in the first place.
Building an ethical business brick by brick is certainly not the easiest goal to accomplish for a company. However, encouraging your employees to put their most ethical steps forward through the right tools and strategies puts your company on the fast track to ethical success.
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Giovanni Gallo is the Co-CEO of Ethico, where his team strives to make the world a better workplace with compliance hotline services, sanction and license monitoring, and workforce eLearning software and services.
Growing up as the son of a Cuban refugee in an entrepreneurial family taught Gio how servanthood and deep care for employees can make a thriving business a platform for positive change in the world. He built on that through experience with startups and multinational organizations so ethicsLine’s solutions can empower caring leaders to build strong cultures for the betterment of every employee and their community.
When he’s not working, Gio’s wrangling his four young kids, riding his motorcycle, and supporting education, families, and the homeless in the Charlotte community.