Workforce pressure, turnover, and burnout are at all-time highs, which is concerning data. Add to it recent high-profile layoffs and economic woes, and you have the makings of a potentially combustible stew. Employees who are alienated from their coworkers in the office and who are eager to demonstrate their “virtual” value to managers may make dubious ethical decisions in which they put their individual success ahead of the organization’s integrity.
This danger is only now beginning to come to light in the early surveys on the effect of remote working on misconduct. 51% of employees have reported wrongdoing since the start of the pandemic, according to a research by incident service report Vault Platform. According to consulting firm Gartner, low employee engagement makes them less likely to report it.
One of my clients revealed to me that she just learned that one of her remote workers had taken a “side hustle” job doing web design for a business partner. There’s no way it would have happened if we were at the workplace, she said. At least once a week, we had lunch together, and that topic would have undoubtedly come up. He would have seen the conflict of interest right away if we had just talked about it.
For any leader, establishing and upholding an ethical culture is difficult, but doing so in a remote or hybrid workplace is more difficult. How do you confidently lead your team so that they make moral decisions even when you’re not looking?
I’ve observed three effective tactics in my work as an ethics and compliance consultant for large corporations. These strategies allow executives to break down barriers between in-person, hybrid, and virtual employee groups that can eventually pave the way for wrongdoing while maintaining the focus on maintaining ethics.
1. MAKE ETHICAL CONVERSATIONS WITH NEW EMPLOYEES A TOP PRIORITY
It’s fantastic that compliance and HR have a part in emphasising ethical behaviour during the onboarding process. But the ethical path doesn’t finish there; it starts there. With so much personnel turnover and reorganisation, new workers are quickly moving into remote locations, which only heightens the feeling of isolation.
It is demonstrated that ethics is everyone’s duty by scheduling a scheduled one-on-one virtual meeting between each new recruit and their direct supervisor to expressly discuss the significance of “how business is done.”
For instance, a client of mine who manages procurement sends the following instruction to all of his remote hires:
Hey, since success with integrity is important to us here, I just wanted to check in and let you know that assistance is available whenever you need it by phone or click. I want to be your first point of contact whenever you have even the tiniest qualms about a decision you’re thinking about. I won’t judge you or hold that against you. I’ll respect you even more for calling to inquire, though.
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These digital interactions are crucially important. Who, after all, do individuals consult when they are in an ethical predicament? Their supervisors. And as I have seen in my own career, the workforce is much more receptive to discussions about ethical business practises when they originate from the corporate narrative rather than just the compliance one.
2. PRESENT THE ROUTINE “WHAT WOULD YOU DO?” SESSIONS
As a manager, you should schedule regular discussions regarding potential difficulties that workers can encounter in the course of their everyday tasks. Where might they try to save money? Where are the compromise-enticing commercial pressures? It is much more probable that people will act on their principles by investigating difficult situations and real-world temptations if you regularly discuss these problems with them. This is because they may brainstorm potential solutions and reactions. The simple act of speaking with people who share our concerns enables us to look beyond the constraints of our immediate environment, as Mary Gentile writes in her seminal book Giving Voice to Values.
One of my clients occasionally arranges hybrid pizza lunches (delivering pizzas to remote workers’ homes) to discuss ethics. Each session is co-led by a compliance and business peer, bringing teams from different locations, divisions, and functions together. In complicated situations, each “lunch and learn” explores “What would you do?” and frequently does so anonymously from within their own organisation.
Such cross-hybrid relationships promote a sense of greater camaraderie, which increases honesty and leads to getting to know coworkers outside of our own teams. Strong relationships and linkages among coworkers make them much less inclined to act in ways that would betray trust or hurt anyone. Additionally, it leads to a decline in safety accidents, improved customer engagement, and increased profitability.
3. CONTINUE TO GET FEEDBACK AND USE TECHNOLOGY TO SEE EARLY SIGNALS OF PROBLEMS.
Leaders in a hybrid workplace require regular, trustworthy feedback to identify warning indications of trouble. Global surveys can be supplemented with tools like mini-pulse surveys and real-time feedback apps that provide quick data on how staff members are feeling or having trouble making ethical decisions.
For instance, finding out that there are financial concerns about maintaining job and reaching goals can be a precursor to later, more desperate, dishonest decisions, indicating the need for more training. The ethical fabric you’ve worked so hard to build can be safeguarded by gathering insightful feedback on areas where your employees might need more ethical guidance and areas where mentorships would be appropriate.
It is difficult to maintain ethics and integrity in a situation when we are emotionally and physically cut off. By putting ethical discussions front and centre, simulating difficult situations that employees might encounter on a regular basis, and using data wisely to spot troubling trends, you can help yourself adapt in real-time and make sure you’re building and maintaining a culture where employees want to do the right thing—and will.