What You Need to Know About Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

Workforce Management
What You Need to Know About Unethical Behavior in the Workplace Unethical behavior in the workplace

Unethical behavior in the workplace refers to actions in the workplace that goes against the predominant moral standards of communities.

Unethical workplace behavior can take on many forms and target many employees. Ranging from simply questionable behaviors to more severe forms of unethical behavior in the workplace, any person can behave unethically, which significantly damages the culture and morale of organizations.

Countless studies have definitively proved that unethical workplace behavior is not only widespread in many organizations but also incredibly costly.

What is Unethical Workplace Behavior?

Experts in the field of workplace ethics define unethical behavior in the workplace as any harmful action that violates the moral standards of a community as a whole.

There are five critical aspects associated with unethical behavior in the workplace.

The Difference Between Unethical Workplace Behavior and Illegal Behavior

Although illegal behaviors and unethical behavior may overlap at times, it is only to a limited extent.

For example, many new moral standards aren’t integrated into the regulatory and legal systems of organizations yet. Similarly, several regulations and laws that have been enforced in the past don’t necessarily reflect modern morality anymore.

Thus, unethical behavior and regulations co-evolve as time passes and are primarily based on a community’s belief system at that time. Although regulations and laws typically follow the changing belief systems of communities, a delay is often involved.

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Unethical Behavior in the Workplace can be Unintentional or Intentional

The definition of unethical behavior implies that employees may behave unethically on purpose or unintentionally.

Intentional unethical behavior in the workplace means that an employee deliberately violates ethical standards for some reason. When employees intentionally decide to behave unethically, they are generally doing so because of a combination of selfish reasons and the situation in which they find themselves. Intentional unethical conduct has also been called counterproductive workplace behavior, as that is precisely what it is.

Contrarily, some employees may behave unethically because they haven’t been made aware of the moral standards they are supposed to respect. For example, unintentional unethical workplace behavior can be the result of a failure to note essential information when making a decision, failure to designate between ethical and unethical behavior or failure to recognize the implications of a decision.

Unethical Behavior in the Workplace is Socially Anchored

The definition of unethical behavior highlights the significance of the fundamental social aspect of unethical and ethical behavior.

Any community, such as departments, organizations, and teams, create and implement particular rules intended to avoid unethical behavior in the workplace that will deteriorate employee morale and cooperation.

We are social beings, and therefore, we tend to internalize the morality that dominates in our community and influence others based on that moral standard. Although this ongoing cycle is the glue that holds communities together, it can also cause some tension between different communities.

For instance, some employees may have a different moral standard than other employees, resulting in disagreements in the workplace because neither side can fully comprehend the standpoint of the other. There is no right or wrong answer, but it is critical to remain respectful in such instances in order to prevent unethical behavior from arising.

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Context Partially Defines Unethical and Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

Besides illegal and blunt unethical behavior, workplace ethics is extremely contextual. As the community’s judgment largely determines what is considered ethical or unethical behavior, the context of the situation is the deciding factor on whether an act is ethical or unethical.

For example, providing your former sales manager with a gift as a friendly gesture may be considered acceptable, but doing the same with your current manager may be violating company policies and is, therefore, deemed unethical behavior.

Many behaviors in the workplace environment are not conclusively unethical or ethical. The reasoning and context of the behavior determine its status.

Both Aggregates and Individuals Can Be Unethical

The last aspect of unethical behavior is that any entity at any level within the organization can perform unethical actions.

Whether unethical behavior is seen among managers, employees, executives, or business owners, it remains unethical.

Similarly, aggregates of employees, including teams, organizations, and committees, can also be guilty of unethical workplace behavior.

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5 Most Common Unethical Behaviors

Misusing Company Time

Misusing company time comes in many shapes and sizes. It can include anything from changing the hours on a worksheet to covering for an employee who is late for work. This form of unethical behavior also includes being aware that a co-worker uses company time to conduct personal business.

Loyal employees will respect the organization’s ethical policies regarding company time. Although turning a blind eye to an unethical activity might make you a more popular employee among your co-workers, it remains wrong.

Abusive behavior

It is all too common for leaders of an organization to misuse their authority and power to treat others unfairly. Unfortunately, regulations regarding ethical leadership and the implications of failing to lead ethically are relatively underdeveloped as of yet.

Therefore, unless the situation involves gender, race, religion, or cultural origin, there is very little protection against abusive behaviors in the workplace. Abusive behavior is one of the worst forms of unethical behavior and, sadly, also one of the most common.

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Employee Theft

Employee theft is an example of unethical and fraudulent behavior. Whether it involves an employee failing to record a sale, check tampering, or manipulating reimbursements for expenses, employee theft is completely unacceptable, and such theft serves as grounds for termination.

Dishonesty Towards Employees

The quickest way to break your employees’ trust in you is by lying to them. Lying is highly unethical and can range from being white lies to more significant deceptions that violate company values.

Lying to employees is a more common occurrence than many realize and typically manifests as early as during the hiring process. Management sometimes makes false and unrealistic promises to new hires before they even start working in order to get them to commit.

Violating the Internet Policies of the Organization

Misusing an organization’s internet is surprisingly a multi-billion-dollar problem among businesses. The terms Cyberloafers and Cyberslackers have been used to describe employees who use the company’s internet for matters unrelated to work.

Many don’t realize that scrolling through Facebook pages and posting on Twitter can be such a huge problem, but when this happens during working hours, and most people are engaging in this unethical behavior, it results in substantial losses.

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5 Ways to Maintain Workplace Ethics

Unethical behavior in the workplace has significant consequences, so combatting unethical activity among employees should be a top priority in businesses. The five practices below serve as a guide to promote ethical behavior in the workplace.

 #1 Create a Code of Conduct

A sound code of conduct is a company policy that highlights the standards and principles employees and third-party entities must follow. Such a code investigates company values and goals and connects them to standards of professional conduct.

The most efficient thing you can do to prevent unethical behavior in the workplace is to instate a good code of conduct that encourages ethical behavior. Many companies think of a code of conduct as a necessary communication to convey legal regulations to employees, but they are missing out on a great opportunity.

A well-constructed code of conduct can help a business with the following:

  • Preventing violations of regulations and the law
  • Improve employee retention and loyalty
  • Encourage customers to remain loyal to your business
  • Strengthen partnerships with business partners and suppliers
  • Build respect and trust among stakeholders
  • Create a good reputation for integrity and honesty

#2 Lead by Example and Promote Good Values

Most businesses have lists of values that feature terms like integrity and honesty. Although it is good to have such values in writing, they are meaningless if the leaders of your organization don’t represent them.

Impactful business leaders have an immense influence on how their workers conduct themselves. Leading by example is arguably the best way to guide your employees in the right direction. If you create a company culture of responsibility and trust by setting the right example, employees will be more inclined to turn to you for motivation and guidance.

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#3 Appreciate Your Employees

If employees feel appreciated for what they do in the workplace, they are more likely to stay engaged and steer clear of unethical behaviors. By letting employees know they are valued, you will effectively increase workplace productivity and potentially save the organization a lot of money.

Loyal employees are significant assets in an organization because they tend to go to great lengths to achieve company goals. A loyal person is less likely to behave unethically because they do not feel provoked.

#4 Make Use of Monitoring Tools

Monitoring software has become widespread in recent years as many organizations make the transition to remote workplaces. There are several fantastic monitoring software available for remote teams as well as physical office spaces that ensure employees will be less inclined to engage in unethical behavior.

Productivity reports and details on browsing history will prevent employees from misusing company time and manipulating working hours. Monitoring software is not intended to create a sense of mistrust in an organization, and employees must understand that.

Therefore, ensure you explain the purpose of the software in depth before implementing it.

Empower Your Employees

Accountability and trust are at the forefront of employee empowerment. Beyond simply creating a united workforce and positive workplace culture, leaders that succeed in empowering their employees are effectively ensuring a better experience for everyone involved.

There are many ways to empower employees beyond just offering them pay raises and status promotions. The key to understanding what empowers each employee is first identifying what awards encourage individual employees to work hard and stay loyal.

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Unethical behavior in the workplace can arise in various forms and become a slippery slope of questionable behaviors among employees. Workplace ethics are violated on a daily basis in most organizations, and it is the responsibility of the company and its employers to prevent unethical behaviors in order to maintain high employee morale.

Whether it is illegal behavior or more minor cases of unethical behavior, an organization must have clear regulations in place for which employees are held accountable. Avoiding unethical behavior from occurring in the first place is the best way to increase productivity and lessen the prevalence of undesirable circumstances.