Hand washing issues, company time theft and lying are just a few of the workplace ethics issues employers grapple with but may be no closer to addressing in a sustainable way without a strategic partnership between the learning and development and internal communications teams.
According to SnapComms, a company that makes internal online communications tools, 41 percent of U.S. workers said they’ve witnessed unethical or even illegal misconduct while on the job, but an ongoing communications campaign running in tandem with ethics training can help workers see some gray-area issues in black and white, said SnapComms CEO Sarah Perry.
“The impact is nip it in the bud while it’s new or be very clear about the fact that those sorts of behaviors aren’t acceptable,” Perry said. “It’s too late after the fact to ‘Ah, but didn’t you realize that that’s not OK.’”
And it’s too late when the fingerprints of unethical behavior collect to tarnish a company’s reputation, resulting in lost talent and diminished company valuation.
Perry said that in SnapComms’ experience, organizations are increasingly trying to head off trouble “too late.” In the midst of incidents with employee misconduct, more companies are determined not to revisit the episode again. These clients may have been using a few methods to address ethical issues, prior to the trouble, she said, but if they were relying solely on a company email to do, they were likely missing out on making a greater impact.
Most employees’ email inboxes are overloaded as it is, Perry said. If something isn’t obviously relevant to an employee these days, it tends to be ignored and other traditional communications like posters and handouts just aren’t enough.
“The thing about changing behavior and changing attitudes is it requires a campaign, and it needs to be engaging rather than just a boring old email that someone may or may not read,” Perry said.
Instead, companies should consider being more strategic — and more visual — when it comes to engaging employees around ethical issues. Campaigns that include a combination of desktop screensavers and wallpapers with critical information, pop-up alerts or a user-generated newsletter might deliver more of an impact since, according to SnapComms’ 2016 white paper, “How to Promote Ethical Behavior in the Workplace,” it’s easier to encourage good ethics than confront unethical behavior.
Plus, an approach that goes beyond email is simply faster, Perry said. Replacing posters is time consuming, for instance. Changing up digital signage, on the other hand, is much easier.
For the learning department’s part, it has to be just as conscientious about how it delivers workplace ethics training as it is about all other learning — strategic in reaching the intended audience and using tactics that will resonate with an increasingly diverse workforce.
Using gamification and other technology may work well with digital natives, SnapComms’ white paper stated, but a traditional presentation from the company CEO may resonate even more for people of a different generation. Learning leaders must think broadly in their approach for designing and delivering ethics training. One way of training, just like one mode of communication, will not provide what Perry called, “full coverage.”
Learning and development also can partner with internal communications to go even further with the rollout of a multi-faceted workplace ethics campaign.
Learning leaders, in a prime position to be aware of at least some of the ethics issues that are draining employee engagement, productivity and company dollars, can share their high-level insights with the communications team and then do a couple more things including:
Prioritize Topics. With company insights — gleaned through surveys, internal social media platforms and hotlines, for example — as well as a more general look at common ethical dilemmas in the workplace, learning and development and communications can focus on what topics are relevant to their organization and ripe for a campaign.
Plan a Campaign. With a short list of troublesome issues, the team can decide upon one topic to focus on exclusively and create a communications campaign around it. Perry said it helps to think about internal and external triggers in the company schedule that might prove especially timely for concerns like gift giving and receiving.
Measure the Impact and Evolve. The team can track which tactics are working and which are not with the help of surveys and analytics, for instance. With this information, communications assets can be fine-tuned for better performance and impact.
Repeat. “It could be that you have a particular campaign around an ethical issue in January every year,” Perry said. People need to know on an ongoing basis what they need to do in certain situations. The white paper’s stated message of repetition and creative communication is key when it comes to encouraging behavior changes.
Left unaddressed for any number of reasons — fear, no clear channels to communicate concerns, little education about those channels — bad behavior, however seemingly small it is, adds up, Perry said.
“People look at what’s happening around them and then assume that’s how they can behave. You have one person pretending that they’re sick or working from home and not really working and then it starts to become something that’s acceptable. These things can escalate quite quickly.”
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below or email email@example.com.