HR's role in fostering ethical workplaces

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The ethical tone of a workplace is set at the most senior level of an organization and expert commentators warn that HR has a crucial role to play in maintaining honesty and integrity.

Two years on from the spectacular demise of the News of the World, whereby dishonest staff nearly brought down one of the world’s largest corporate empires, having an honest and ethical workplace is now at the forefront of corporate agendas worldwide.

Dr Hilary Armstrong, a professional associate of the not-for-profit St James ethics centre, said that having continual robust conversations about ethics and policies is the key to an open and honest workplace.

She added that while ensuring workplaces operate honestly is certainly no easy task, there is too much at stake to turn a blind eye.

Armstrong said there has to be good policies in place, which are continually revisited and modelled by senior leadership. She said that having an ethics code in place is meaningless if senior leaders “do not walk the talk”.

Additionally she said that it is critical for HR managers and senior leaders to foster an environment where people feel comfortable to speak out and say what they need to say.

“I think HR plays the role of being in a middle position. There has to be good transactions with senior management, but they are also about looking after the people at the organization,” Armstrong said.

She advised that regular activities be organized which encourage open communication, transparency and holding each other to account.

Chip McFarlane, director of Institute of Executive Coaching suggested the following management tips for HR professionals, in order to avoid scandal and potential law suits:
 

  • HR must be afforded the appropriate functions of instituting ethics policies by the executive team. The HR team must be given the power and support to push accountability.

 

  • Programs should be instituted which raise awareness of what is an expected level of behaviour.

 

  • Anonymous feedback forms should be readily disseminated.

 

  • Senior management must ensure that it is an explicit part of HR’s mandate to provide clear expectations and company policy to staff.

 

  • When the executive focus is on accountability, it will be in everyone’s consciousness

 

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