Why ethics add value to your organisation
By SANDY CLARKE
Ethics is an often misunderstood subject and one that can, as a result, be wilfully neglected in the workplace as issues are waved away as “isolated incidents”.
At the mention of the word, ethics sounds like an abstract concept that belongs to the bearded philosophers of Ancient Greece rather than having a place in 21st century organisations.
Far from being an outmoded, obscure consideration, ethical practices are vital if an organisation wishes to maintain its integrity, which is key to ensuring the well-being of everyone who is part of the organisation, and the success of the organisation itself.
Since ethics relate to the guiding principles or set rules that are designed to maximise the well-being and welfare of employees and customers, business leaders have a huge responsibility to make sure that the culture they create is one that’s conducive to respect and support, safe and accountable.
Organisations often have guiding values that they try to instil in employees as a measure to maximise teamwork, efficiency and progress. However, values become little more than words on paper when there is little or no effort to make sure ethical principles underpin roles and responsibilities within an organisation.
As a result, organisational integrity becomes compromised, causing a raft of problems from a lack of effective communication to a lack of respect for the leaders and even among employees themselves.
One of the ways in which organisational integrity is maintained by business leaders is when they ensure employees are not only aware of their rights, but that they proactively support the enforcements of those rights.
The importance of employees’ awareness of their rights in the workplace can’t be stressed enough. From an individual perspective, rights offer protection and support in difficult moments, and they also protect benefits conducive to well-being.
These rights address aspects such as having a limit on the amount of weekly working hours, the provision of annual leave, safe working environments, sufficient break periods during working hours, maternity and paternity leave, medical benefits, contracts of service, and many more.
The Malaysia Employment Act 1955 was drafted precisely to protect these rights of the employee, as well as to offer reasonable protections to employers as means of guaranteeing that employees are held accountable for their conduct and performance within their respective roles.
For employers, the consideration must be kept in mind that, without skilled employees to carry out necessary roles to a high standard, any measure of success would be extremely difficult to achieve. It’s therefore in the interests of the employer that their employees are well looked after, their well-being maintained, and that they are given the proper training and resources to perform consistently to the best possible standard.
A common concern for employers in this respect is that they might develop their employees to such a degree that they then leave the company and go off to work for rival organisations.
However, employers who treat development as an investment rather than a cost are likely to retain their best performers, since employees will recognise when their company truly has their best interests at heart.
From the employees’ perspective, they of course look to employers to provide roles that are relatively secure along with several benefits and incentives.
Maintaining organisational integrity, it really is a two-way street. Just as employees expect to be valued and respected by their leaders, employees should realise that they are just as responsible as their employers (if not more so) for bringing about the kind of success that helps an organisation to survive and thrive.
While leaders have their duty to support and develop employees, employees should recognise the value of the opportunity they have been given and provide every effort to make the best of the job they have been given, ensuring that colleagues and leaders alike are given proper courtesies and considerations that help to make everyone’s life that little bit easier and the workplace an enjoyable, creative and innovative place to be.
Basic principles of ethical behaviour in the workplace
1. Respect for the individual
Everyone has a right to preserve human dignity, to be treated fairly and be able to go about his or her business without interference, bullying, or harassment. Leaders and senior managers within organisations have a duty to empower those for whom they are responsible.
2. Support for the individual
Employees should be provided with guidance and support wherever needed, whether their needs or requests relate to professional growth and development, or concerns or issues they might have regarding the conduct of others or practices within the organisation.
3. Freedom from harm
In the workplace, people have the right to carry out their role free from any intentional harm, and a responsibility to ensure that their conduct and actions are well-intended towards their fellow colleagues and customers. Company resources should also be used with consideration to a positive end, rather than wasted.
4. Freedom from discrimination
Business leaders should make sure that no unfair burdens or favouritisms are placed on their employees. They have an obligation to provide employees with whatever is required to carry out their roles sufficiently, and everyone within an organisation has a duty to work for the benefit of anyone who is treated unfairly.
3 examples of unethical business practice
1. Chevron’s hiring of military force in Nigeria
Since petroleum oil was discovered in 1956 in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, companies such as Chevron have prospered from the area. Over the years, the government forced people from their land to be distributed to oil companies, which lead to a violent uprising in the 1990s.
Reports suggested Chevron had a military base in the Delta State of Nigeria, housing over a hundred soldiers who destroyed villages, and killed native leaders who attempted to negotiate with the soldiers.
2. Siemens’ collaboration with Nazi Germany
The engineering company helped the Nazis to build infrastructure including railways, power generators and communications. Of the company’s more sinister projects, Siemens had factories in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, where Jewish slaves would make electrical switches for the company for military use, and be subsequently exterminated within a Siemens-made gas chamber.
3. Wal-Mart sues brain-damaged employee
In 2000, 52-year-old Deborah Shank’s collision with a tractor-trailer left her permanently brain-damaged and wheelchair-bound. Her family won a US$1mil settlement from the trucking company, which left them with US$417,000 after legal and other costs were covered.
The money was used to care for Shank. However, Wal-Mart – which provided her healthcare plan – later sued the family for the US$470,000 it had spent on medical costs. It was awarded US$275,000 – the amount that was left for her care. According to the agreement, this was completely legal on the part of the employer. Following public outrage, Wal-Mart eventually allowed the family to keep the money.
10 key points from the Malaysia Employment Act 1955
- Employees may terminate their contract without notice when threatened by danger, violence or disease.
- If an employer fails to pay employee wages later than seven days after the wage period, the contract is deemed broken by the employer.
- The contract is deemed broken by the employee if he or she is continuously absent from work for more than two consecutive days without prior leave, unless the employee has a reasonable excuse and has informed or attempted to inform the employer at the earliest opportunity during the absence.
- Either party to a contract of service may at any time give a termination notice in writing, and the notice period shall not be less than: four weeks for employment less than two years; six weeks for employment between two and five years; and eight weeks for employment more than five years.
- Every female employee is entitled to at least 60 consecutive days of maternity leave in relation to each confinement.
- A female employee shall be entitled to receive maternity allowance if she has been employed more than four months before confinement, or is employed more than 90 days during the nine months immediately before her confinement.
- Every employee is entitled to a minimum of one rest day per week. Employees who are required to work during their rest day(s) should be double paid for that day(s).
- Any overtime hours carried out in excess of normal hours of work should be paid at no less than 1.5 times the hourly rate of pay for the employee.
- If any employee is required to work on a paid holiday, they should be double paid. If any employee is required to work overtime on a paid holiday, they should be triple paid.
- An employee is not required under his or her contract of service to work more than five consecutive hours without a period of leisure of not less than 30 minutes; more than eight hours in one day; in excess of a spread over period of 10 hours in one day; or more than 48 hours in one week.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.