Ethical danger zones

dangerLast week I shared some articles about actions leaders can take to build and sustain ethical cultures. Here are some tips from the Society for Human Resource Management to help you know when it’s not working and your organization  might be entering a danger zone.

Conflicting goals: Unsustainable objectives or conflicting expectations can cause employees to lose faith in organizational ethics. For example, if staff are being asked to provide higher levels of one-on-one service while at the same time experiencing layoffs it can appear that values are in conflict.

Fear of retaliation:  Years ago I knew an organization whose leader had a history of removing people who disagreed with her. It only took a few examples for people to stop sharing their opinions. Even in less drastic situations, people can hesitate to advocate for ethical choices if they are afraid of personal consequences.

Avoidance:  For a variety of reasons, leaders sometimes put off dealing with ethical lapses. Allowing unethical behavior to continue sends a message to employees that adherence to standards isn’t a high priority.

Lowered thresholds: Ethical lapses usually don’t happen all at once. If one person routinely pushes the standards just a little bit, it’s easier for the next person to push it just a little further. Leaders can then find themselves dealing with a culture that allows questionable behaviors to occur.

Do you experience any of these ethical danger zones in your leadership work? How have you managed them?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Society for HR Management (SHRM): Creating an Ethical Workplace


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