A Publication of WTVP

As new graduates go to work after years of academic preparation and as current students move into internships, employers face a key challenge: how to train and develop ethical behavior in the workplace. When people are hired for specific positions, they often learn informally about corporate culture and behavior. Yet that may be one of the most critical understandings for any new worker to master.

Few employers develop ethical practices and training with new hires. They orient people to the workplace and familiarize them with key requirements and expectations. New hires are introduced to their supervisors, workspace, and basic scheduling matters. Some workplaces have coaches or mentors to guide hires as they deal with matters of teamwork and collaboration.

New hires, however, may not learn about workplace values and ethics. There are three reasons for this gap. First, some employers don’t identify key ethical positions and practices in the corporate culture. Maybe the expected patterns of choice are absorbed from the atmosphere or the way other employees behave, but they aren’t written down anywhere for reference or reflection.

Secondly, some employers may have very noble ethical statements and core values, but the operational values and practices are very different. How can one tell? There are two ways: rewards and feigned ignorance. Rewards come in two packages—tangible (cash, promotion) and intangible (recognition, affirmation). What’s rewarded? The answers will tell new hires a lot about behavior and choices. Feigned ignorance occurs when certain negative or contrary behaviors are overlooked by supervisors—even when the employee handbook is clear that such behavior can be met with discipline. It happens more than we think, and employees watch carefully.

Sometimes values and organizational ethics are written clearly and carefully so they can be understood and integrated into people’s lives. Yet no training is offered to help new hires learn by example and reflection. They aren’t given the tools to sort through some of the ethical dilemmas they’ll face in their day-to-day work.

When ethical training takes root with new hires, there are great results. At Southwest Airlines, for example, practical exercises help new hires absorb the corporate values of efficiency, mutual care, and fun. They’re provided with experienced “pals” to help them sort through some difficult decisions with customers and co-workers. Working over a longer period of time, they absorb the ethical standards of the airline and live them out. They also develop a strong loyalty to the airline and to one another. They not only make money, but they create excellence by solid ethical commitment.

The American Red Cross is another example of an employer training new hires in core values. After all, when dealing with family, community, and national emergencies, ethical practice is absolutely essential. There are six universal values in the International Red Cross movement that are part and parcel with the organization, and new employees are trained carefully in decision-making that reflects these universal standards.

So what are some ways core values and ethical practice can be instilled in new hires? Four key elements come to mind that can be adapted in any organizational setting. 

• Align the core values with operational values. Make sure the work routine, the decision-making process, and the reward system demonstrate transparency between standards and practices. In longer term strategic planning, a careful review of ethical standards and core values is essential. Key business strategies can be surrounded by ethical expectations, limitations, and decision-making.
• Develop and use training tools in corporate values. Create a PowerPoint or video presentation (or both) that puts key ethical standards and practices into an easily understood learning method. These tools can be developed into a periodic curriculum so new hires and old hands alike can reflect on some of the tough choices they’ve encountered.
• Make an ethics presentation a key part of new hire orientation. In an orientation session—or, in some workplaces, a series of sessions—a period of time can be devoted to communicating core standards, how they’re valued, how they’re tested or reviewed, and how they’re rewarded. Training tools can be an integral part of such training.
• Provide ethical coaches and mentors for reflection and feedback. Provide new hires with experienced workers who integrate corporate values into their work habits and practices. Such people can be line workers as well as managers and supervisors. They can be much more frank and direct in conversation precisely because they have an advisory role, not a disciplinary role, with the employee.

Training and developing new hires in corporate values and ethical standards can have a great payoff: a loyal and dedicated worker who’s inclined to make the “right” decision. IBI