Workplace Honesty: Learning and Unlearning
Honesty is a virtue that is of major importance especially in business, yet very much neglected in the context of today’s rat race. Employees play a big role in uplifting the culture of honesty in their workplaces, a culture that is nevertheless radiated to the clients or end-users of the company’s offerings. But what if the employees are having problems with their own attitudes toward honesty? What can a company do to help maintain a culture of trust and trust worthiness among the employees, the management, and the customers as a whole? Who wins when a company wins over the battle for an honest corporate culture?
This was the problem of Gerald Sy. Managing a training institution, Sy discovered that his instructors were cheating him on their timekeeping, costing him big sums for a long time because he was paying the instructors in full despite rampant tardiness. Sy moved against the problem and devised a process of accounting the instructor’s timekeeping even if it meant additional work for him and additional time needed on his timeframe to process the salaries.
As if that was not enough, he also ruled an 11-tardiness per month standard wherein whoever fails to meet the regulation shall be dismissed. This showed that it was not the money that the company can save from deductions which was important. On the contrary, it was the standards of the company, and how the employees uphold it, and how the final service is perceived by the customers. Sy expects that the measure will work, and is ready to evaluate if it really did.
Dishonesty in Many Forms
There are many forms of dishonesty in the workplace. Most are as petty as stealing a paper clip from one’s officemate (no one saw anyway) or breaking down the coffee machine and not admitting it (it could be broken before I used it, I would not really know). It was easy to be dishonest in the workplace because people often mind their own businesses while at the peak of work. No one will ever bother to watch after an officemate making coffee to see if he will break the machine at some chance.
Steven Gaffney, the writer behind Honesty Works!, states that it is not only lies and dishonesty that costs companies most of its revenues. He insists that the mere fact that many employees cannot honestly communicate with each other has wasted time, money and effort of employees and businesses. (Newswise, 2005) When a worker avoids a confrontation about an operational flaw with a co-worker to avoid conflict, the flaw will stay unresolved and may even result in bigger loopholes.
Small lies also often lead to bigger dishonesties that are harder to get away with. Personnel who steal equipment from their companies, or money, or even work hours are nothing new in many workplaces. They are so common, yet they still do not fail to surprise. Some get away, yet some are caught to pay the big price of cheating. The problem with honesty, or the lack thereof, is that it becomes vicious. The more a person commits a work of dishonesty and gets away with it, the harder it is to be honest. The bottom line is how to end the vicious cycle.
Can Honesty be Taught?
From a young age, almost every child is taught basic values that are essential for living. One of these values is honesty. It is easier for children to understand its value, and when they learn it they often grow with it. Michael Daigneault agrees. However, he states that factors affecting the workplace, such as workplace pressure and competition, will require a person to have bedrock values to maintain righteousness. Otherwise, he will be tempted to sway away from childhood-learned ethics. (HR Magazine, 1999)
Rigterink and Louzecky (n.d.) also concludes that virtue can be taught but do not agree that it should be taught as other academic subjects are taught. Moderation, they said is an important key. Teaching honesty, the authors propose, should convert the subjects into thinkers, analyzing the absorption of the value and its advantages before really absorbing it. They assert that doing so will instill the value into the subjects more than when it is taught outright.
End of the Game
If honesty like other values can not be taught in its simplest sense, how then can companies promote honesty? First, we should consider how a virtue is instilled. Fact is, ethics is not automatically learned. You can tell a hardened criminal to change his ways and there are chances that he will, but given a chance to strike a crime again there is definitely a slim chance for him to decline the opportunity.
Thus, virtues are imbibed through practice. As aforementioned, the more a person practices the act of honesty the stronger it stays within his values and the harder it is to break. On the same way, the more a person cheats the harder for that person to be honest and break from the bondage of lies.
The management is the best venue for a company to start promoting honesty. A company needs to be led by honest board of directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, however the heads are called. If the top of the pyramid is governed by upright people, it is easier for the leaders to impose rules on moral values to the base of the pyramid. Honesty in this level may be showed by transparent management of funds, upfront and realistic relations with the subordinates, and open communication lines.
A boss of a company who is married and is caught by his employees cheating on his wife will definitely drive down the morale of his people. His employees will be tempted to resolve in idle talk about him and his affair and forget about work altogether since the boss is not acting very boss-like anyway. Given that that is in a personal level, consider a scenario were the act of a boss’s dishonesty is on a professional scale.
For instance, a manager was audited and the auditors discover that he was paying ten people in the payroll whereas there are actually only five people in his department who is actually reporting for work. The event will definitely pull down the confidence and team spirit of the five people in his team. Moreover, the manager himself will lose the drive to work for shame and guilt. Ultimately, it is not the manager or the employees who are the only ones who will suffer. The company as a whole loses considerable work time and revenue, just because of a single act of dishonesty from just one person. It is therefore safe to conclude that honesty is an individual decision that has collective effects.
It is also important that the company verbalize subscription to a value. If the management discovers major flaws on dishonesty, the management can choose to make honesty a core value in the company. They will then need to define honesty in the context of their workplace, and define it as specific as possible. Does it mean creatively communicating issues and problems? Does it include choosing not to engage in secrets that may hurt co-employees? How does it affect clauses on confidentiality?
When the management has defined the core value to subscribe to, it is important that they communicate this decision to every person in the company. A general assembly as well as departmental meetings will be a great help. In doing so, an open forum should be encouraged so that questions can be immediately answered and reactions can be resolved.
For continuity, it is equally important that people are trained about—not taught on—moral values. From the moment that a person is oriented on the vision, mission, and goals of the company, to the time that he is undergoing annual trainings within the organization, the value system of the company should be stressed and internalized by them. First, it is a good way to make them feel that they belong to the organization. Secondly, it will help them find a basis for actions and decision making processes. Learning good values at work will also make them worthwhile people even if they are out of the workplace, which is important especially because employees represent their companies.
The orientation is another good venue for value formation. Each newly hired employee should be made familiar with issues in the company and how the management is resolving them. Values should be highlighted. Thorough discussion on how the management is working against it shall be made and stress that honesty is a very important virtue for anyone wishing to join the company. This will imply the value of such virtue in the company without being popish.
Annually, it will help if value system is integrated in annual improvement seminars for employees usually done after evaluation periods. The training should discuss the ethical standards that the company subscribes to, and how each employee is expected to follow through. Lapses shall also be discussed along with solutions that can be done to prevent the occurrence of such ethical issues from arising again.
It is still easier said than done. However a company makes efforts on promoting honesty, it is still virtually impossible to create a cheat-free workplace. Even if a company is good, employees will have their own attitudes to live with—employees will always undergo circumstances where they will be pressed on engaging into an act of dishonesty. It is therefore important for a company to follow through and have an open eye to see to it that their core value is being followed and respected for its benefit and for the welfare of its employees and customers.
It is hard to be honest in the corporate environment. Oftentimes the ones who are honest are the ones who are left behind, or even smeared with nasty labels and judgments. However, it is important for companies to promote the value of honesty because it greatly affects the company, employees, as well as the customers.
If a company succeeds in achieving an honest workplace, the employees can enjoy a harmonious working relationship with each other. This will make them more productive and beneficial for the company. The company, in return, will maximize its potentials and prevent loss of revenue. It may even gain more. An honest workplace also reflects honesty with its customers. As such, customers will feel comfortable in transacting with the company and can become long-term clients.
The company should anticipate failure in promoting honesty, though, and should be prepared in making follow-up actions. When failure occurs, an evaluation should be done identifying the weak points of the plan. This will enable determination of follow-up plans and corrective actions to try. Research and study is essential, as well as patience and determination by the company and the proponents of the core value being promoted.
Honesty is a choice. If the company chooses to be honest, and it can convince its employees to choose to be honest, there is more chance for such culture to exist and benefit the people surrounding the business. While it can be taught, it is still up to every person in the company to use such knowledge. It is therefore important to make them think and realize the value of honesty to them, to their work, and to their clients. After all, it is the best policy.
HR Magazine. 1999. Teaching business character. Retrieved February 15, 2007
Newswise. 2005. Honesty in the workplace sorely lacking. Retrieved February 14, 2007 from http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/516781/
Roger, R. Louzecky, D. n.d. Can virtue be taught? If so, should it be thought? Retrieved February 13, 2007