Authors: Aaron Goonrey and Jenni Mandel (Lander & Rogers)
This article was originally published in Lexology.
Employees will not come forward and report troubling behaviour if they fear retaliation. This update outlines how employers can establish and maintain their organisation's values.
We all aspire to work in an environment where we feel valued, free to express our views and confident that we are all on the same page when it comes to ethical business practices and integrity.
Unfortunately, as the misconduct scandals and high-profile resignations brought about by the Banking Royal Commission have shown, the reality is that many organisations suffer lapses in ethics and compliance. This is common for businesses driven solely by profits – where it is easy for the pursuit of financial gain to trump all other considerations.
A culture of complicity can damage an organisation's reputation and financial standing. Having a company vision, which underpins a business's culture, is key.
This update explores the importance of values, which can help to foster a workplace environment in which employees feel empowered to report misconduct and undesirable behaviour.
Why are values important?Whether recognised or not, values are important. They influence and inform decisions — from whether we should take a particular job, to whether we should start a family.
When it comes to corporate culture, values are no different. A company's core values are the essence of its identity. They provide a framework by which a business engages with its employees, customers, clients and other stakeholders, and ultimately influence and shape its culture. In this sense, a business's values can be considered the essential elements that underpin the behaviour of the organisation and its people. They are a roadmap to determining the direction that the business and its people take in everyday work situations.
Most organisations have a set of identified core values. These often constitute little more than a few words in an “About Us” section on a company website or in an induction handbook.
However, to be effective, a company's core values must be embraced by everyone in the organisation. They should be consistently communicated and should underpin all of the processes and practices (both formal and informal) which direct how the business and the teams within it operate.
Building and promoting a speak-up culture
As with any relationship, trust comes first. If an employee feels that they cannot trust their manager or their employer, then they will likely keep their knowledge of any misconduct to themselves or report it elsewhere. The current media scrutiny of companies such as Flight Centre demonstrates how this can cause all sorts of problems for a business in the future.
Instilling a culture of trust and confidence in the workplace will help to reassure employees that they can, and should, voice any concerns. Quelling fears of retaliation for speaking up about ethics or compliance issues and reassuring employees that they will not be treated unfairly if they make a complaint are a big part of this.
If the workplace does not have an open-door policy whereby employees feel that they can approach and talk to management about issues concerning them, then they likely will not speak up. Similarly, if employees are not encouraged to call out unethical behaviour, it will be difficult for them to uphold the standards that the organisation is trying to maintain.
Employers that encourage employees to ask questions, take employee concerns seriously and follow through on concerns generally send a strong message about integrity. This is fundamental in creating a workplace culture in which candour and ethical decision making is paramount.
How to instill these values
There are a number of steps that employers can take to create an atmosphere of trust and candour, including the following:
• Establish grievance policies and procedures that are clearly communicated.
• Confirm that the business has appropriate whistleblowing options in place. Coming forward with a grievance can be daunting for many people due to the stigma that surrounds whistleblowers and the fear of retribution. This is especially true when an employee is required to report to someone to whom they would not normally have a direct line of contact. Given this, employees must be able to report issues or grievances (eg, by way of email or an online portal) and to so do anonymously if they desire.
• Ensure that managers and supervisors receive thorough and effective training on how to respond to, and guide, employees who come forward with issues or questions. This could also extend to providing full-team training with real-life examples. When employees choose to report issues in a face-to-face manner, managers should be trained to focus on the claim, rather than the person raising the issue.
• Confirm that managers maintain regular contact with their team members. Managers who communicate regularly with their teams (either individually or during team meetings) and who ask questions, listen carefully and act on advice from the team create more transparent and open cultures.
• Consider implementing a policy of non-retaliation for raising issues and asking questions. It is important for employees to understand that they will be protected from blowback from the time that they make a complaint and at every step of an investigation or whistleblowing process. Employees will not come forward if they fear retaliation.
An organisation's values are the core of how it operates. On occasion, an organisation should recall and refresh its values, and ensure that its managers and employees are on the same page.