On the Flipside (morals in companies)

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On the flipside

I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make such a depressing post!
It wasn’t meant to be depressing, just stating the way things are. Despite that, I have had a few people tell me it was sad, so this is my attempt to cheer the situation up.

YES…the very nature of companies being profit-hungry, cash-driven enterprises may mean that they are likely to have some practises that do not align with your own moral code
YES…you do sometimes find yourself in situations at work where you are expected to compromise your morals to either do your job effectively or to integrate with the rest of the team
YES…it can be depressing to think that companies are blemishing the environment / politics / community / families because they are only thinking of shareholder profits

BUT…

There are some great things happening too!

Private and public limited companies are not the only kind out there. There are also co-operatives (by the people, for the people – see comment on last post), social enterprises (profits get ploughed back into the company and they are usually a profit making company with people-led or environmental aims) and charities (not for profit).

There are also ethical companies who focus on aligning their ethics with those of the people that buy their products (e.g. Riverford Foods). Though these will only survive or thrive if us, as consumers, are picky about consuming ethical products. There’s plenty been written on this so I’ll just point out that there’s a good ethical guide here.

Comments on the last post seem positive, as people work for co-operatives or companies with ‘transparency’ policies. You can read about ethical business practises here.

Companies that are active with their Corporate Social Responsibility are actively being recognised through World CSR Day, European CSR awards and Business in the Community Awards. Companies are starting to see that a positive impact in the local community not only benefits the community but also helps to attract good employess. The Times 100 best companies to work for list includes ‘Giving something back’ in their assessment criteria.

There is the problem though that these gestures are not at an employee level. Business CSR, business ethics and business practices are all at the company level.
A company can sponsor the local kids football team, give a grant to a community centre or litter pick on the streets but the employees may still be walking into a tense, backstabbing office every day. Workplaces cannot enforce ‘correct’ moral behaviour, as one comment pointed out that this varies from individual to individual. An employee cannot be given an official warning for giving a snide look to a colleague, or fired for being selfish with the freebies that get delivered. However these are both things that could make another employee question staying in a job.

In the USA they are very big on Character Education (their words for encouraging good morals). There are lots of character councils in the USA that partner with schools to promote values such as respect, kindness, tolerance etc. I think that most of these are backed by religious organisations, as certainly they have the same kind of aims. Some of these organisations are also involved in businesses. The Character Council of Cincinnati (for example) has influence in schools, the community and local businesses. They encourage companies to sign up to their program which (they say),

“consciously create a culture in which good character is valued, promoted, taught, expected, and rewarded. Encompassing ethics, excellence, and caring, character becomes the foundation of the business and a platform for achieving company goals. Character is a competitive advantage!”

They also have a mailshot where an email is sent reminding employees to act ‘in good character’ and a different value is explained each month (such as tolerance, sincerity, generosity, integrity etc). I’m not entirely sure that this would work in the UK. We have a very different culture and are unlikely to appreciate people telling us to ‘be good’! However I’ve signed up to their mailing list and I do enjoy reading about how different character traits could improve my work, and improve myself. When I really focus on improving a character trait I feel good about myself and see a noticeable difference in my attitudes. They have helped me mature as an individual, and think more carefully about how to handle situations with colleagues. I think it’s worth the UK giving it a go!

The AAT factsheet has a really great paragraph that sums this up.

“Businesses can take a wide range of ethical stances. At worst, ethically
challenged organisations may take the view that behaviour is acceptable “provided they will never get found out” or “because everyone does it”. However as the world changes, the widespread use of social media increases the likelihood of being caught. A recent example here might be the ethical culture and practices of the media which came under scrutiny in the Levenson inquiry into phone hacking. Today’s customers, employees and even shareholders expect businesses and their leaders to stand for more than just profitability. Those professions and businesses that put ethics at the heart of everything they do, will be the success stories of the future.”

At work today I was told I was naive. But I disagree. I do think well of others because I believe in people. I have faith in others and I think that the majority of people do want to be good and would want to improve their behaviour given the right opportunities.

Businesses are made up of people…so I believe they could change too!

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