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6 Proven Ways to Prevent Unethical Behaviour in the Workplace

Prevent unethical behaviour at work

According to a recent survey,  15% of European workers are aware of current unethical practices within their organisations. However, this does not mean they would necessarily be keen to report this wrongdoing. In Germany, nearly a quarter of employees (23%) admitted that they would never escalate their concerns as it does not mean that they would necessarily be keen to report this wrongdoing. In Germany, nearly a quarter of employees (23%) admitted that they would never escalate their concerns about this kind of activity. Entities across the EU need to be able to change this culture and promote the benefits of whistleblowing for workers and businesses alike. Thankfully, there are several ways to prevent unethical behaviour in the workplace and encourage whistleblowing.

Not only is it important to encourage an ethical culture where employees can speak up, but companies, governing bodies, and agencies should do all they can to show that they are committed to eradicating illegal practices from their workplaces. The most compelling reason for this is the EU Whistleblowing Directive, but it is not the only one.

For example, more than half of European Union residents (52%) believe that government procurement contracts are won through bribery and personal connections, rather than genuine competition. This erodes trust in those governments and only a concerted campaign to counter unethical behaviour will help to adjust that perception. 

1. What is unethical behaviour at work?

Unethical behaviour at work is any activity that takes place in an employment environment and contravenes the accepted moral norms of the workplace. Often, this refers to acts that benefit the perpetrator in some way at the expense of their colleagues, the organisation, its clients or the public at large. In most cases the activity is of illegal character, but it could also refer to any action that could be viewed as unprincipled or immoral to fellow workers. 

The aim of the EU Whistleblowing Directive is to support employees and other stakeholders within organisations to file reports on breaches of EU law. In addition, as member states transpose the directive into their local legislation, bodies like Transparency International are lobbying for them to extend the scope of unethical behaviour to include national law as well. 


2. Six ways to prevent unethical behaviour in your workplace

2.1 Create a Code of Conduct 

Expecting employees to act ethically seems straightforward, but ethics and the organisation’s expectations, rather than leaving it up to the individual to use their judgment and morals, are abstract concepts that differ from one person to another. To ensure that everyone in the business understands what is expected of them by the organisation, rather than leaving it up to the individual to use their judgement, you should create a code of conduct

A company’s Code of Conduct explains what is and is not acceptable behaviour in a range of different situations where your employees may find themselves. It should also state the sanctions in place for contravening the code and committing unethical actions. 

For example, your Code of Conduct could cover acceptable practices for claiming expenses to prevent workers from spending the company’s budget to purchase personal items

2.2 Continuously review the code

Your Code of Conduct, or Code of Ethics, should be an organic document which you are able to update in the Employee Handbook as appropriate. It is good practice to review it every year with employees and see what is working, what needs improvement and what you need to add to reflect the changing workplace environment. 

Have all employees read the updated version and return an acknowledgement to confirm that they understand the document and how it affects them. Having them contribute to the Code of Conduct creates the feeling of participation and . motivates them to adhere to it.

2.3 Reinforce consequences for unethical behaviour

As well as reiterating the importance of how you expect employees to behave at work, you should reinforce the consequences for those who commit ethics violations. 

If someone contravenes your Code of Conduct, you must be seen to deal with it swiftly and effectively. This means warning or even termination of employment if it is what the code requires. If you, however, fail to fulfil your promised action, this sends a message to others that they can commit unethical acts without repercussions.

2.4 Hire the right people

In order to create a robust ethical environment in the workplace, you must work hard at employing the right people to help you achieve your objectives. This means working hard at your interviewing process and adding an ethical element to your dealings with prospective candidates. 

Check references when hiring. Many companies ask for them but do not examine them. If you find evidence of previous unethical behaviour, this should raise a warning sign when considering the candidate. Alternatively, if a previous employer mentions impeccable ethical standards for a candidate, this should indicate that they are worth advancing further in the process. 

By using ethics as a key factor in the decision-making phase of your recruitment process, you can help prevent future unethical behaviour. 

2.5 Work on building a loyal community

The more employees feel engaged in their work and valued by the business, the more likely they are to act in its best interests. Loyal employees are of vital importance to a business. If they do not feel a connection, it is easier to justify committing unethical acts in the workplace. 

Involve employees in your Code of Conduct, encourage them to voice their concerns, listen to them, reassure them, and ensure that there is good two-way communication in order to increase loyalty and reduce the chances of unethical behaviour. 

2.6 Implement monitoring and reporting systems

With so many different pieces of legislation to bear in mind at all times, along with financial penalties for both legal and natural persons who contravene them, implementing monitoring and reporting systems can prove vital in maintaining compliance. 

Here we provide you with a list of systems that you can implement in order to ensure an ethical workplace:  

Tool Related legislation How it helps
IntegrityLog EU Whistleblowing Directive Encourages whistleblowers to make confidential reports relating to unethical behaviour that they witness in the course of their work. 
InsiderLog Market Abuse Regulation (MAR)  Creates and maintains insider lists, as well as reminding insiders of their responsibility not to commit insider dealing or unlawfully share inside information, which is specific, non-public information that could affect a share price if made public. 
TradeLog Markets in Financial Instruments Directive MiFID II and MAR Allows investment firms to control the personal trades that employees can make so that they avoid a conflict of interest with their clients. 

How to encourage employees to make ethical decisions

2.7 Promote your values and lead by example

In your corporate documents, you should ensure that your values include references to ethics, integrity, honesty and similar terms, but you should also embody those values yourself. If leadership is seen to act in an ethical manner, making ethical decisions and living by them, this encourages the employees to follow the example.

2.8 Show employees appreciation

In order to foster the loyalty of employees and ensure engagement and connectivity to the company, you should reward their challenging work. If employees are being shown appreciation for their efforts, they are less likely to take advantage of unethical opportunities. 

Some of the ways you can show appreciation include providing bonuses, half days or other incentives for successful working practices. 

2.9 Invite motivational speakers

Demotivation can lead to all manner of issues within an organisation. One of the outcomes of this could be an increased risk of indulging in unethical behaviour. By inviting motivational speakers, you can inspire your workforce and renew their enthusiasm about the job. 

In addition, these motivational speeches could even broach the subject of ethics in order to further spread the message about your intention to promote good ethical behaviour and eradicate unethical activity. 

2.10 Provide ethical training

As a follow-up on motivational speeches, full training in ethics is an effective way to encourage your employees to make the right decisions in the interests of their colleagues and the business. 

Helping employees to understand the importance of whistleblowing and how it benefits society in general is a good example. Additionally, you can talk about the process of making a report, how to treat whistleblowers whose identities have been revealed and the steps the organisation will take to follow up on the reports. This helps employees understand what could happen if they act unethically, whilst encouraging them to come forward if they spot wrongdoing. They will feel safe in the knowledge that they will be listened to and protected

2.11 Implement a system for reporting unethical behaviour

Introducing a whistleblowing policy provides a guide to potential reporting persons to help them understand how to make a report, as well as advise them on the next steps. The policy should reassure the reporting persons that the company supports them and that they can remain confidential. It is a signal that the company will keep them informed of the progress, as well as the outcome of the investigation and will take appropriate action. 

3. FAQs

3.1 What kind of work environments can cause unethical behaviour?

Disengaged employees can be more likely to commit unethical behaviour as they feel less affinity with the company and less guilty for taking advantage. In addition, boredom might lead to such behaviour competition. In this case, workers may seek to cut corners to gain an advantage. Another work environment in which unethical behaviour can flourish is where leadership is seen to act unethically, setting a poor example. 

3.2 What are the most common unethical behaviours in the workplace?

According to the Ethical Resource Centre, the five most common unethical workplace behaviours are:  

  • Misuse of company time
  • Abusive behaviour
  • Employee theft
  • Lying to employees
  • Violation of company internet policies 

4. Conclusion

Allowing unethical behaviour to flourish in the workplace can lead to poor productivity, loss of company resources, criminal activity and damage to your brand. It is unfair to colleagues, the business, the customers and even the public in many cases. This can cause compliance issues and create a toxic environment at work. By implementing monitoring and reporting systems, you can show your commitment to ethical behaviour and to uncovering and eradicating wrongdoing. 

IntegrityLog is an automated whistleblowing reporting system which is compliant with the EU Whistleblowing Directive and allows for easy reporting and follow-up. Request a demo of IntegrityLog or request a 14-day free trial for your business today. 

5. References and Further Reading


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