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Navigating the important (yet tricky) world of business ethics

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

Positive business ethics can help cultivate a healthy work culture, resulting in better performance. However, with so many differing opinions and perspectives, pinning down an approach can be tricky.

Business ethics are crucial for a thriving workplace. Shortlister defined them as “the set of moral principles, values, and standards that both employees and employers follow in the workplace. At its core, ethics in the workplace is the moral code that guides employees concerning what is wrong and right conduct.”

Employers should be working to provide a healthy environment for workers to operate effectively, and positive ethics can assist in this. In the current volatile talent market, this approach can also equip businesses to overcome challenges.

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“Positive ethics aren’t just important; they’re crucial for a healthy workplace and healthy business. They do much more than guide decision making and behaviours; they act as a magnet for attracting and retaining the right kind of talent, repelling the wrong type of person and minimising risks to the business in a multitude of different ways,” said Robyn Djelassi, managing consultant and founder of Impact People Solutions.

“Top performers want to work in an environment where integrity, respect, and fairness aren’t just buzzwords but are deeply embedded in the company culture, and customers are also selective about the types of organisations they engage. In an era where reputation can be your strongest asset or your biggest liability, a genuine commitment to positive ethics is non-negotiable. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons, which, in turn, can set your business apart from the crowd.”

According to Djelassi, leaders should be at the forefront of implementing positive business ethics. Promoting these ideas from the top can have a trickle-down effect on staff perspectives.

“Leaders and HR pros play a pivotal role in shaping an ethical workplace. As a leader, your words and actions are scrutinised more than most, and your teams are paying attention to what you say and what you do. It starts with setting the tone at the top: clearly defining what ethical behaviour looks like and integrating these principles into the organisation’s core values,” commented Djelassi.

“It’s crucial to go beyond just talk and a set of fancy values, though. Ethics need to be ingrained in the way we interact with our colleagues, our customers, stakeholders and our communities – and backed up with solid policies to encourage transparency, fairness and transparency. Modern slavery statements and reports, gender pay gap analysis, implementation of Respect@Work risk assessments and actions are all practical examples of how leaders and HR can go above and beyond the rhetoric.”

However, challenges can arise. One glaring one is the ambiguity of what ethics are. What is ethical to one employee may not be to the next. This is where leaders need to be inclusive and understand that no two people are the same.

“[Differing perspectives] is where it gets a bit tricky, but it’s also an opportunity to build a truly inclusive culture. The key is to focus on the common ground, and I do this by incorporating ethics into a set of meaningful values,” said Djelassi.

Djelassi concluded: “Most ethical principles, like honesty, respect, and fairness, are pretty universal. By weaving these into a set of core values that are determined not by the executive team alone but by the broader organisation, I often find that while the values are the same, the expression of them can vary from person to person or location to location.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.