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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Ethics In Worksite Wellness: How To Mitigate Cheating

Monday September 1, 2008

This may not sound like a wellness topic, but it is if it affects the morale or even viability of the individual or the company. It is worth asking if everyone agrees that people who cheat in business are immoral. Or, is it the case that good people in business sometimes just innocently reframe things to favor their interests? Perhaps the latter is the case more often than not, due to the human tendency to interpret gray areas in our favor.

It is important to the company health to have a clear commitment to ethical behaviors in all ways. Besides the legal difficulties and other obvious problems with cheating in one form or another, poor company ethics can have other effects. These include an increase in turnover of honest workers, high pilfering costs, and psychological issues affecting productivity.

Sometimes, as you may have heard, job candidates exaggerate their qualifications, employees falsify a report or a company misrepresents the value of its products and services. Are these ethical offenses?

One reason there IS corruption in business today is that questions like this are often ambiguous in specific situations, difficult to assess. Also, standards in the work context are frequently unclear. Consensus on specific applications may be missing, leading some to controversial choices.

These questions may sound as if written by a defense attorney. However, the objective of an ethics program at the workplace is to reduce gray areas that lead ordinary people into corruption. If everyone comprehends why some employees sometimes cheat, more effective controls can be devised.

Norms have a great influence on behaviors. Social experiments have clearly shown how readily most people can be led astray by social pressures, peer influence and dysfunctional company traditions.

This is not to suggest that everyone is the same. Some will hold out against the worst influences; others will steal, lie and cheat under the best imaginable conditions for integrity and honor. The goal of an ethics program is to influence those in between these extremes, which comprises around 85 percent of workers.

Among the controls found to support a culture of integrity, besides training programs that identify behavioral norms in predictable "iffy" situations unique to each company, are the following:

Large-scale reforms favored by many business school ethics professors include the creation of ethical cultures in business with harsh penalties, especially jail time, for egregious violations. Companies must put a premium on hiring those with high ethical standards; varied methods are available for effectiveness at such efforts.

Overall, company policies should encourage whistle blowing, dissent and interdiction of questionable practices. Finally, a proven way to promote an ethical culture is to create a company ethics position. This function is as important as safety and other kinds of specialty job functions. Ethics officers would know and monitor legal and ethical issues and be available to employees for advice and investigations.

Be well. Always look on the bright side of life.

Domain: mental
Subdomain: emotional intelligence

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