An office employee, Jill, puts a turkey and provolone sandwich in the fridge for her lunch that day. Later, another employee, Francis, spies the sandwich and tells herself it’s OK to eat, even though Jill clearly wrote her name on the sandwich wrapper.
That may not seem like an ethical issue for the company. It may seem like a personal thing between two people. But if Francis is allowed to continue stealing other people’s food without any consequence, it could lower the morale of the office. It could lead other employees to decide that since Francis isn’t paying any sort of price for her thievery, then it must be OK. If other employees try to retaliate against Francis, things will get even nastier, until half the office in engaged in a bizarre lunch war.
It’s tricky to address ethical problems in the office. Some managers fear taking sides, even though that’s kind of their job when someone is being wronged and someone else is committing the wrongdoing. To make sure everyone in the office is in the same page, look into hosting a workplace ethics course. If one employee is making bad, dishonest decisions, it can easily spread to the rest of the office, especially if there’s a perception that shady behavior is tolerated or even encouraged.
It can be a lot more serious than sandwich-snatching, too. If your business has a cash register, one employee could be regularly sneaking money from it to put in their own pocket, then framing a co-worker with way less seniority for their crimes. Or say you have a fairly high ranking employee responsible for logging a new shipment of unique dinnerware that’s supposed to go on the sales floor. Instead of doing that, though, they decide to lie and say it never arrived, since there were no other witnesses that saw the delivery truck. That deception allows them to take the dishes home and sell them online for a profit.
There are dishonest people almost everywhere, unfortunately. Basic training in ethics won’t do everything to eliminate bad actors, but it will allow your company to say that all employees received instructions on the kinds of things that aren’t acceptable. It may also encourage other employees to come forward and reveal any violations that are being committed inside the office.
You want to encourage accountability among your employees without encouraging people to tattle on each other. If a new hire does nothing but play on Facebook all day, that’s an issue worth reporting. But if an employee takes a few minutes to check their social media accounts, that’s probably not a big deal as long as they get their work done on schedule. You should also differentiate between honest mistakes and deception. It’s common for people to make mistakes on their time card, but it shouldn’t become an issue unless it keeps happening. If so, then they may be trying to falsify their time sheets, but don’t jump to that conclusion immediately if a worker has an otherwise good record.
Every office has problems occasionally. By giving your employees some instructions in ethics, you’re helping to make sure that the problems won’t spread and infect the entire building.