Ethics dominates a lot of conversation in Silicon Valley. People are asking: Can self-driving cars learn ethics? Should we genetically modify insects? Is it okay to put 5G technology in world-class cities but leave rural communities off the grid altogether?

Everyone's asking why we can't trust big companies to play ethically in the marketplace, but here's a better question: Why aren't we building companies where it's easy to be ethical? Maybe we don't know how. Maybe we still think keeping employees right where we can see them will keep them in line.

If that's what we think, we're wrong.

A new study from Kellogg at Northwestern University says integrating employee home life and work life is key to curbing unethical behavior. When people have to separate their home-selves from their work-selves, they feel inauthentic, which leads to unscrupulous behavior. Here are four tips for maximizing employee ethics.

1. Provide flexible scheduling and location-independent options.

Research out of the UK says that employees with more flexibility take less time off. They don't have to manufacture excuses, making up family problems or phantom illnesses, when they just need a day to themselves and a long nap.

When a dad or mom can take an hour to pick up a kid at school, a flexible, work-from-anywhere arrangement lets them make up the time later in the day. That lets employees manage family responsibilities without having to lie about it or steal time from work.

Besides, happy employees are generally ethical employees. Flexible work arrangements go a long way toward keeping your team happy and therefore acting above board.

2. Quit trying to build a workplace family and let people go home to their real families.

CEOs love to say their team feels like a family, and it sounds charming, but it can bear serious ethical consequences. For one thing, families commit to one another. The ideal family hangs together through the best and worst life holds. Work teams don't do that.

Your employer's commitment to you hinges on your performance. I wouldn't kick my kid out of the family for a bad report card, but I would fire an employee for turning in consistently poor work. Instead of telling your employees they are part of a new family, help them do their work efficiently and effectively so they can go home to their real families at the end of the day with a clear conscience.

People feel safe in a good family, knowing they are loved no matter what they do. You want employees to feel safe but not like they'll keep their jobs no matter what they do. Stick with being a leader or a manager and avoid acting like a mom or dad.

3. Make kids part of the workplace.

Children's presence makes adults behave better. People associate children with innocence, so adults curb their swearing, hold back on their tempers, and generally mind their manners when little people are around.

See what you can do to cultivate a child-friendly atmosphere while still getting all the work done. In a small company, you might just make an exception for that one single parent who needs to keep their children at work during the summer. Or at a corporation, you might institute on-site daycare and after-school services.

Letting children integrate safely and appropriately into the workplace helps foster a more ethical environment along with a more family-friendly one.

4. Create gender-neutral policies for time off.

Paid paternity leave, which some employers are still reluctant to grant, lets new fathers spend more time bonding with their babies. A study from the University of Georgia says that "Fathers who spend lots of time helping out with child care-related tasks on workdays are developing the best relationships with their children."

And better, happier dads make for better employees. A hands-on dad can have plenty of experience in compromising, negotiating, resolving conflict, and multitasking. He can also be more committed and have a deeper stake in his career than a less-involved dad does.

Creating ethical workplaces means nurturing a culture that helps employees integrate home and work. Otherwise, your team members will feel like they're not being authentic, and the temptation to skirt around ethics grows larger.

Published on: Jun 26, 2019
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