Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Workplace like country song

Too much lyin', cheatin' going on

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I don't ever recall paying much attention to changes and growth in our English vocabulary, but I was surprised at how quickly new words were created after the Lance Armstrong confession spilled over to the news waves. These new words, doprah, liestrong and livewrong, will stay with us for some time and will continue to be a symbol of the deep corruption seemingly found in the area of cycling sports.

While the Armstrong story is said to be the biggest lie in sports history, it's by no means the only story of personal or corporate corruption. For instance, many readers will remember the American energy firm, Enron Corp., whose CEO along with his executive team engaged in corporate fraud and corruption resulting in bankruptcy and the loss of 20,000 jobs.

Not only that, but the corruption stretched over to the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson, which at the time was considered one of the "big five" auditing, tax and consulting firms. The firm surrendered its licence to practice and voluntarily dissolved, leaving more employees out on the street.

At the time in 2001, Enron quickly became the poster child for corporate fraud and it also led to investigations into the accounting practices of audit firms. This in turn led to American legislation that created new standards for public company accounting and investor protection. At the same time, while it takes years to bring things to court, many of the executives involved in the Enron and other corporate scandals over the past few years are spending many of their remaining years in jail.

Yet, that's not the point. The point is that many people in business and sport continue to lie and cheat to get ahead. And a second point is that society is not going to stand for it anymore.

Government, too, has been aggressively pursuing strategies such as new legislation to prevent corporate fraud and corruption. New legislation was recently created to protect individuals known as whistleblowers who expose corporate corruption. As well, business schools across the country and corporations themselves are engaging in ethics training for staff.

Human-resource professionals on the other hand have been busy helping their employers develop a code of ethics, an organization structure to support ethical workplaces as well as policies, procedures and confidential complaint procedures that encourage employee reporting.

Initially, steps toward erasing corruption from our workplaces took a punitive and directive approach while today, organizations see additional benefits in creating an ethical work environment. The following specific benefits of creating an ethical workplace are outlined below:

Positive public image -- as seen by recent events, it takes years to build a strong positive public image but it only takes minutes for it to be destroyed. Organizations that pay attention to their image, build a positive reputation and ensure corporate consistency build consumer trust.

Effective recruitment and retention -- employees are attracted to organizations where they'll be treated with respect and know their contributions will be valued. And believe me; it doesn't take long for a poor corporate reputation to become well known. A comprehensive ethics management strategy assists with employee recruitment and retention.

Employee value alignment -- ethics policies, procedures and employee training programs help to align employee and corporate values. This in turn helps to build strong teams, facilitates open communication and motivates employees toward high performance. Employees know what the corporation stands for and can guide their behaviour accordingly.

Legal compliance -- a focus on ethics, especially through policies and practices helps an organization to ensure compliance with local legislation and reduces legal liability. Creating comprehensive human resource policies as a preventative measure is more cost effective than fighting lawsuits at a later date.

Ethical employee treatment -- with Canada becoming such a diverse nation, corporations and organizations alike must pay attention to fair, equitable and ethical treatment of all their employees. For instance, ethics policies have led to improved treatment of employees with illness and disabilities, pregnant women and individuals from different cultures and languages.

Ethics equals quality management -- most corporations are concerned about quality management and will find that ethics programs are strongly aligned with the drive for quality. Ethics management creates consistency, sets standards for quality service and employee behaviour and assists employees to take individual responsibility for their actions.

Ethics drives management decisions -- there are always different pressures in organizations that impact on decision making. Ethics policies and practices help managers make those decisions in a fair, objective, transparent and ethical way. Ethical decision making creates trust as conflicting options are systematically dealt with and mixed messages are avoided.

Ethics structure -- putting ethics policy and practices in place requires an assignment to an ethics officer and/or a human-resource officer to whom individuals can turn to when needed. There are plenty of so-called grey areas with respect to ethics and conflict of interest and employees need to have someone to consult for advice. This strategy and structure invites individuals to discuss their issues and to prevent breeches of ethics before they happen.

Lance Armstrong, once the champion of his cycling sport, is now quickly becoming known as a champion cheat just as Ken Lay, the CEO of Enron, became symbolic of corporate corruption. Unfortunately, these public labels will live on forever. While individuals will continue to make their own choices regarding lying, cheating and corruption, establishing corporate ethical standards and aggressively enforcing them will go a long way to curb this type of behaviour.

Don't wait until corruption is exposed in your organization; take preventative action by creating your corporate ethics policies and procedures.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 H1

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