Crossing the Line at Work: Helping Employees Become More Ethical

An article in the November 2014 Oprah magazine titled “The Morality Workout” got me thinking about ethics at work, and how as employers we have an obligation to help our people develop their integrity, which in turn helps us create an ethical organization.

ethics at work

At one point or another, we all experience situations at work that push our ethical boundaries.  For some people, the line is very clear and will never be crossed. For others, they look for opportunities to cross the line – which leads to everything from petty pilfering to industrial espionage. But it’s the people in the middle – those whose ethics haven’t yet been tested, or who don’t have a strong moral compass – that we can most effectively impact in a positive way.

In the article, the author talks about “strengthening your moral muscle.”  She says that scientists and ethics researchers have identified that people’s values can be improved and “…they believe that you can train to be more ethical, much as you’d train for a 5K race.”

Many organizations regularly implement ethics training workshops. But ethics learning is also susceptible to the same drawbacks as all other corporate learning: regardless of whether in-class or via eLearning, it’s a one-time event, with no consistent, repetitive reinforcement. The result: people generally forget as much as 90% of what they learned within 30 days.

The solution is to implement a continuous reinforcement model for ethics training, in which specific situations and responses can be kept top of mind, so that when employees are confronted with a dilemma, they know the appropriate response. It’s one of those topics that will benefit from daily training delivered in small and gentle training bites that aren’t overpowering, but persuasive – and pervasive! After all, we’re not just trying to instill knowledge, we’re trying to shift attitudes and beliefs; and help people develop skills so they can hold on to their ethics even during stressful situations.

In fact, our customers are having a lot of success delivering this kind of information via the Axonify platform. An example of this is Pep Boys, who were able to reduce their employee theft and increase calls to their Integrity Pays (employee theft) hotline by 60%! This is not only due to the everyday nature of the “reminder” to act ethically, but the fact that the gamified learning experience is fun and engaging.

Gamified learning gives you the ability to tie ethics development to the pleasurable activity of games – so when people recall the information they’ve learned, it triggers a pleasant emotional response. Linking integrity to a pleasant feeling is one of the surest methods of shifting attitudes and ingraining ethical responses to challenging situations.

By creating a continuous learning environment that constantly reminds employees about the right thing to do, what’s tolerable in the organization, and why it’s important; employees will embrace these concepts, helping create a more ethical organization.

Written by Laura Martin

As a process person, she loves nothing more than taking a business and transforming it from obscure to renowned and beyond. She takes the reins on Axonify’s strategic alliance marketing efforts that put the company on the map.

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