Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Assessing Your Firm's Ethical Climate

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Assessing Your Firm's Ethical Climate

Article excerpt

Use this process to assess your organization's ethical climate and its impact on health, safely and the environment.

In April, we provided you with a model for ethical decision-making. This month, we discuss a process for assessing your organization's ethical climate and a practical way to deal with it. An organization's ethical climate is an indicator of how it will act when faced with difficult decisions regarding the health and safety of its employees, the public and the environment.

The Policy Side: What is Said

We can view ethics as a pyramid - an Ethical Pyramid - where the organization's leaders form the foundation for conduct and decision-making (and the foundation of the Ethical Pyramid). Some initial questions to consider:

* Are these men and women perceived as people of integrity?

* Have they established a pattern of behavior that emphasizes the importance of individual integrity?

In other words, when faced with a serious problem, like an apparent pattern of injury and death associated with a product or operation, do these leaders respond aggressively and forthrightly to prevent further employee harm?

The middle level in the pyramid encompasses communication and enforcement of the ethical code. Questions to consider here:

* Has executive management established and distributed a formal code of ethics to every employee?

* Is every company recruit educated about the importance of integrity and trained in the ethical requirements of decision-making?

* Is the code reinforced in every decision?

* Are there rewards and consequences for appropriate or inappropriate ethical behaviors?

* Is ethical misconduct dealt with swiftly and justly?

* Is there a formal body within the organization for addressing ethical questions and lapses?

For example, what happens when an employee makes a decision based on the organization's code of ethics, revealing a validated pattern of lifethreatening product defects to management, realizing that billions of dollars in product recalls and lost sales are at stake? Knowing the answer to this question will help you decide if you are working for an organization that aligns with your ethical makeup.

Employees make up the top level of the Ethical Pyramid. Are they encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and associated consequences? Is it acceptable or expected of employees at all levels to question authority when an action they are asked to take or they observe being taken appears unethical? Have confidential and nonretaliatory channels been established for communicating ethical questions to executive management? …

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