Three Ways to Spot Bad Work Ethics . . . Starting with Post-Its

Have you ever . . .

• seen someone playing video games on company time?

• found a co-worker stocking up on home supplies from company shelves?

• known a supervisor that has asked someone to fudge on a report?

They are all unethical behaviors. They may not seem like big things, but over time they can have a big effect on a company's reputation and bottom line.

Three Signs of Unethical Behaviors 

Here are a few easy signs that things aren't on the up and up.

If looks like theft, it probably is.  If someone says, "I'm going to take the stapler home. They'll never miss it here," it's theft. In fact, a Banner Business Services survey reported that two thirds of us have stolen office supplies at work — the most popular being Post-Its® — and it costs companies $3.2 billion a year.

2. It feels wrong, trust your instincts. If the warning bells go off after you've been asked to "lightly" doctor a report, or to cover for someone who frequently comes in late, it's your conscience talking to you. Stop and listen!

3. There's a lot of rationalizing: Whenever someone says, "It's OK, everyone does it," that's a rationalization — or an excuse for a bad decision. It's all too easy to take the bait, especially when we want to fit in.

Good Ethics Make Good Business Sense

Unfortunately, unethical behavior comes in many forms. The Ethical Workplace says the four most common unethical behaviors include: 

• Misusing company time — such as using company time to conduct personal business.

• Abusive behavior — when managers and supervisors use their positions and power to mistreat or disrespect others. 

• Employee theft — and amazingly stats show that employees steal more than the average shoplifter.

• Lying to employees — a quick way to lose employee trust.

Give Them the Tools

The important thing is to be able to spot unethical behaviors and provide your employees and managers the skills to handle ethical dilemmas when they present themselves, and take an ethical action test when they need it — including videos like:

Moment of Truth (personal decisions)  

Ethics 4 Everyone (ethical behavior)

Accountability that Works (personal accountability)

The Abilene Paradox (group/team accountability)

What To Do When Conflict Happens (conflict resolution)

In short, it’s pretty simple. A profitable and respected business starts with good office ethics. 

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor--with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.