How to Overcome Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

unethical behavior in the workplace

Most of us will face an unethical behavior in the workplace at some point in our careers. In fact, nearly half of workers in the United States acknowledge having witnessed ethical misconduct in the workplace within the past year. Although there are varying degrees of unethical behavior, the potential consequences can be damaging – not only from a legal standpoint, but to a company’s culture and its reputation. Therefore, it is important for leaders to recognize what drives ordinary, decent people within their organizations to make unmoral decisions and develop strategies that counteract and prevent these behaviors.

What causes unethical behavior in the workplace?

Organizations set themselves up for ethical disputes by creating environments where people feel compelled to make unfavorable decisions they wouldn’t usually make. Pressure by management to meet unrealistic business objectives is one of the most common ways in which this occurs. When leaders set expectations that are virtually unachievable, employees will take equally extreme measures to try and meet them. This is especially true in competitive industries where every task is seen as an opportunity to impress, produce value and get ahead. When employees feel they cannot meet targets any other way, they resort to unethical practices; largely out of fear of losing a promotion, money, or even their job. For instance, they will cut corners to reach their sales goals or make false claims to secure a business deal. Employees become so narrowly focused on doing what is beneficial to them that they even manipulate others for their own personal gain, without considering the consequences.

Unethical behavior in the workplace is also created when there is a lack of accountability for questionable actions by those in high-level positions. Companies may be surprised to discover that their own leadership may be inadvertently encouraging misconduct and influencing the choices of those they lead. Employees tend to emulate the actions of leaders they respect and admire, especially those who have achieved success in the company. Consequently, they can begin exhibiting unethical behavior without even realizing it. For example, a manager may lie to a customer about a product offering or exaggerate numbers in a proposal. If an employee witnesses this, they may assume they are free to do the same.  The manager has thus created an environment where presenting false information is seen as acceptable. When leaders fail to evaluate their own actions and unintentionally send messages to employees, they’re setting the business up for an ethical disaster.

Payments Fraud in the Workplace

Accounts payable fraud makes up almost half of all fraud cases reported in business which means there is a lot more unethical behavior in the workplace than we may realize day-to-day. AP fraud is an easy target for scammers considering all of a company’s money goes through the accounts payable function. Companies that still rely on manual AP processes and paper checks are particularly vulnerable to fraudulent activity due to the lack of accountability and transparency of transactions. Duplicate payments, false vendor accounts, and stolen checks, are just a few of the activities AP departments commonly face. To reduce potential fraud at every phase of the payments process, organizations are turning to AP Automation. Invoices and electronic payments are streamlined for full control and visibility, and approvals are made quick and easy. In addition, the automated workflow ensures that invoices aren’t duplicated or paid to an unmatched supplier. With AP automation, leaders are not only protecting the business from fraud related losses but eliminating any temptation or opportunity for employees to engage in unethical behavior.

How can you establish a more ethical work environment?

It has become customary for organizations to institute a Code of Ethics, a collection of principles and practices that a business believes in and aims to live by. They should work in conjunction with your company’s corporate values, but outline more specific policies about how employees should handle themselves in certain situations. Ideally, behaving ethically at work should come easy, but unfortunately, acceptable practices are not always clearly defined. Having a Code of Ethics will create a sense of fairness and a clear understanding of the rules and repercussions so both employees and leaders are aligned.

In order to overcome unethical behavior in the workplace, leaders must also create an environment in which employees feel safe and comfortable. Most people lack the confidence to speak up or raise ethical concerns at work, in fear that they will be dismissed or even reprimanded for defying a manager. The more open and genuinely approachable leaders are, the more willing employees are to speak up when circumstances require it. Furthermore, the way leaders react to ethical concerns and the actions they take in response, ultimately set the tone for how others will approach ethical issues in the future.

Unfortunately, unethical behavior in the workplace is something many businesses fall victim to. Whether it’s to climb the corporate ladder, make more money or appease a manager’s requests, these incentives can all too often lead to unfavorable decision making. Lapses in workplace ethics occur every day, in every kind of business. However, strong leaders that model moral behavior and set clear policies can mitigate the risk of an ethical dilemma damaging its company’s reputation.

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