I recently welcomed Dr. Julena M. Bonner to my podcast, Let’s Fix Work. Dr. Bonner is an Assistant Professor in the Management Department of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. She recently wrote a research paper on unethical employee behavior and creating an ethical environment in your company. In layman’s terms that means she researched why employees do things like spit in people’s food or assault customers who mistreat them.
Not only did we talk about why employees participate in this kind of bad behavior, but Dr. Bonner also provided some sound advice for employers, managers, and organizations that will help them mitigate it too. And guess what? It all comes down to company culture and ethical work environments.
So how can organizations be sure the employees they hire won’t spit in a customer’s food? Dr. Bonner says first we must, “disrupt this process.” Her research found that companies that cultivate and maintain an ethical culture, a culture where employees perceive that the policies, practices, and procedures strongly underscore ethical principle, can help disrupt this intuitive process of doing bad things. Why is this so? Dr. Bonner says because by being surrounded by ethical policies and practices, people tend to think more naturally about the ethics of the situation.
The next question that comes up after learning how to mitigate this bad behavior is, “Well, how can we create an ethical environment for our company? We do have an ethical code of conduct. That should be enough. Right?”
Not exactly. As Dr. Bonner points out, it’s important to understand that having a statement of conduct or ethical code of conduct does not mean you have an ethical working environment.
True ethical cultures where informal values are exemplified come from leaders, from the top down. That’s right, folks, ethical environments start with leaders.
Leaders play an important part in developing and maintaining an ethical culture. Dr. Bonner explains that’s why it’s so important for organizational leaders to develop themselves as ethical leaders. In doing so, they put themselves in a position to role model ethical behavior, which in turn builds an ethical climate.
Dr. Bonner summed it up best when she said, “When a work environment has a strong culture of ethical behavior to your formal policies and informal values exemplified by other employees and managers, employees are more likely to control their reactions and behave professionally when they’re mistreated by the customer.”
The bottom line is this: Ethical culture can help mitigate employee responses to customers who mistreat them. And Dr. Bonner is optimistic about this approach.
So is it time for you to fix your work environment? If so, listen to my full conversation with Dr. Julena M. Bonner. In addition to discussing ethical environments and how to foster good employee behavior, we talk in-depth about moral philosophy, Dr. Bonner’s research, and more. Listen to our full conversation here.