Ethical Structures

by Sree Rama Rao on January 5, 2011

Ethics committees

Group of executives assigned to oversee the organization’s ethics by ruling on questionnaire issues and disciplining violators.

Ethical structures represent the various systems, positions and program a company can undertake to implement ethical behavior. An ethics committee is a group of executives appointed to oversee company ethics. The committee provides rulings on questionable ethical issues. The ethics committee assumes responsibility for disciplining wrongdoers which is essential if the organization is to directly influence employee behavior. For example Motorola has an ethics compliance committee that is charged with interpreting, clarifying and communicating the company’s code of ethics and with adjudicating suspected code violations. Many companies, such as Sears, Northrop Gruman, and Columbia / HCA Healthcare have set up ethics offices with full time staff to ensure that ethical standards are an integral part of company operations. These offices are headed by a chief ethics officer, a company executive who oversees all aspects of ethics and legal compliance including establishing and broadly communicating standards, ethics training, dealing with exceptions or problems and advising senior managers in the ethical and compliance aspects of decisions. The title of chief ethics officer was almost unheard of a decade ago, but there is a growing demand for these ethics specialists because of highly publicized ethical and legal problems faced by companies in recent years. The Ethics Officer associations a trade groups report that membership has soared to more than 955 companies up from only 12 in 1992. Most ethics offices also work as counseling centers to help employees resolve difficult ethical issues. A toll free confidential hotline allows employees to report questionable behavior as well as seek guidance concerning ethical dilemmas.

Ethics training programs also help employees deal with ethical questions and translate the values stated in a code of ethics into everyday behavior. Training programs are an important supplement to a written code of ethics. Boeing and Verizon require all employees to go through ethics training each year. At Boeing senior managers get at least five hours annually. At McMurray publishing company on Phoenix, all employees attend a weekly meeting on workplace ethics, where they discuss how to handle ethical dilemmas and how to resolve conflicting values.

A strong ethics program is important but it is no guarantee against lapses. Enron could boast have a well developed ethics program but managers failed to live up to it. Enron’s problems sent a warning to other managers’ organizations. It is not enough to have an impressive ethics programs. The ethics program must be merged with day to day operations, encouraging ethical decisions to be made throughout the company.

Whistle Blowing:

Employees’ disclosure of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices on the employer’s part is called whistle blowing. No organization can rely exclusively on codes of conduct and ethical structures to prevent all unethical behavior. Holding organizations accountable depends to some degree on individuals who are wiling to blow the whistle if they detect illegal, dangerous or unethical activities. Whistle blowers often report wrongdoing to outsiders such as regulatory agencies, senators or newspaper reporters. One Health South bookkeeper tried to blow the whistle by posting his concerns on a Yahoo! Forum, but no one took the tip seriously. Some firms have instituted innovative programs and confidential outlines to encourage and support internal whistle blowing. From this to be an effective ethical safeguard however companies must view whistle blowing as a benefit to the company and make dedicated efforts to protect whistle blowers.

When there are no effective protective measures, whistle blowing suffer. Although whistle blowing has become widespread in recent years it is still risky for employees, who can lose their jobs, by coworkers or be transferred to lower level positions.

There are laws protecting both government and private whistle blowers from recrimination. However, many managers still look upon whistle blowers as disgruntled employees who aren’t good team players. To maintain high ethical standards, organizations need people who are willing to point out wrong doing. Managers can be trained to view whistle blowing as a benefit rather than a threat, and systems can be set up that effectively protect those who report illegal or unethical activities.

Excerpts from New Era Management





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