The scope of an organization’s human resources department reaches far beyond hiring and firing employees. The HR personnel often are held to a high standard of ethics because of the influence that HR has on the productivity and livelihood of staff, and on the way that employees conduct themselves in the workplace. The activities for which HR is responsible affect business principles, ethical behavior and corporate citizenship.
Beyond compensation and benefits, HR teams are now tasked with challenges like fostering diversity in the workforce, addressing issues of inequality and setting standards around workplace conduct. Often, human resources ethics policies around these issues can directly impact how a company attracts and retains talent. While HR ethics conversations that challenge the status quo in the workplace are marks of progress, they require HR departments to make tough ethical decisions. HR teams often are already in charge of ethics training and writing key policies, including the organization’s code of ethics and conflict-of-interest policy. Even HR decisions and practices that don’t bear the label of “ethics” can set a tone for principled behavior.
A culture where misconduct is tolerated—or, worse, encouraged—could result in higher turnover, lower productivity and, ultimately, a diminished reputation and profitability. On the other hand, companies that work to build and maintain ethical workplace cultures are more financially successful and have more motivated, productive employees, studies have shown.
HR’s greatest impact may be in determining the ethical character of the individuals who are hired and retained. Putting the right individuals on the team—that is, hiring those with the values we want—is crucial. So is getting rid of the bad apples, even if they happen to be star performers.
In today’s connected, globalized business context all organisations can find themselves at risk of reputational damage and of having detrimental reports spread widely through social media channels to multiple audiences.
HR managers’ role in the ethical conduct within an organisation can feed in at various points:
In handling ethical problems HR managers need to appreciate the complexities involved, avoid escalation of the issue and protect against the emotional and reputational impact that can result from them. It is also increasingly important for HR managers to develop a global perspective on ethical issues.
HR departments are often the first stop for employees who have discrimination complaints or concerns about management. By fostering an open door policy, HR can stop small problems from becoming big ones. Keep employee complaints confidential, and never try to convince an employee that her complaint is not legitimate. Instead, listen empathetically and offer real, actionable solutions. When an employee reports a systemic problem, HR should report this to management, and managers and owners should listen to and implement HR recommendations.