Building Workplace Ethics
A lot has been written about fear-based and trust-based cultures in the workplace. A fear-based workplace is a place where fear drives behavior. Decisions are made because of the severity of the consequences of acting outside the prevailing culture. A trust-based workplace is where ethical leaders make decisions that are in the best interests of those in the organization and are guided by moral behavior.
Corporate leaders who lead by fear use command-and-control to keep employees in line. Many corporations have become obsessed with managing workers through measuring, monitoring, goal-setting, and dictating processes to reach those goals. The problem with this kind of culture is it can hamper productivity and undermine morale. The intense focus on measurement and control are a reflection of top leaders’ lack of trust in their managers and other workers.
Fear and trust cannot co-exist in the same place. Managerial fear overpowers trust because one is active while the other is passive behavior. Writing for Forbes online, Liz Ryan says that confident leaders trust themselves to hire people they can trust. They know employees will rise to every challenge and don’t need to be constantly monitored. They rely on shared values and moving toward a defined mission.Ryan also lists ten signs of a fear-based workplace. The following are just a few examples.
- Fear of losing a job if employees miss a goal.
- Dictating to employees rather than listening to them, problem-solving with them, celebrating their successes and envisioning even greater successes.
- Fear of telling the truth and saying something that managers don’t want to hear and suffering the consequences of a “kill the messenger” culture.
- Following the rules and avoiding blame rule the day because of a culture that focuses on the concept of “don’t screw up.”
- In a fear-based workplace, the smartest and most capable employees don’t get promoted. The people who get promoted are the ones who embrace the fear-based culture.
What can an employee do if they work in a fear-based culture? Here are a few thoughts.
- Stand up for yourself and your co-workers but beware of the potential consequences including the loss of a job.
- Don’t get angry over your treatment should you decide to go against the prevailing culture.
- Seek out advice in the company from well-respected employees and managers in order to learn more about how to deal with a fear-based culture.
- Think twice before acting. Ask yourself: How would I feel if my actions and words were discussed on social media. Would I be proud? Could I defend it?
Building a trusting organization is dependent on communicating openly and honestly. Rules are clear and consistently enforced without prejudice. Managers act in ways that are consistent with organizationally values and their actions match their words.
A trusting organization is based on shared values. Trust is largely an interpersonal phenomenon. Trustworthy companies have a track record of being reliable. Organizational trust encourages personal trust relationships. Trusting must be a shared value throughout the organization.
A trusting organization creates an environment of "psychological safety" where one's perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in work environments is safe and reassuring.
Trustworthiness is a value adopted by ethical leaders. Ethical leaders are those that act in accordance with ethical values such as honesty, integrity, respect, and responsibility. Trusting leaders are admired and followers seek to emulate their actions.
Unhappy employees are disengaged and unproductive and are a consequence of a fear-based workplace culture. Employees are reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution. The environment quickly becomes toxic shutting down a free and open exchange of ideas that might stifle innovation and creativity.
Ask Skonnard points out writing for Inc. online: “While a culture of fear may temporarily make people work harder to try and avoid undesired consequences, leading through fear will always backfire…particularly when it comes to retention. In other words, fear kills the company’s productivity engine.”
Ethics and a trusting environment go hand in hand, and one reinforces the other. There is a well-known phrase in organizations: Trust but verify. Trusting decisions must be matched against the core values of an organization and basic ethical standards such as: seek first to understand and then to act; treat others fairly and equitably; reward good behavior; be an ethical leader.
Building a trusting workplace culture is a full-time exercise. Ethical leaders know how to do it and actively work toward create a trusting environment.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 18, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.