Business school isn’t just about educating professionals in the classroom. The best schools, such as Cambridge Judge Business School, take their education a step further with business research. That’s why recently, David De Cremer, a KPMG Professor of Management Studies at Judge, wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about workplace behavior titled, “6 Traits that Predict Ethical Behavior at Work.”
The article touches on the importance of trust and openness within an organization’s culture. It then goes onto speak about how companies can better ensure and predict ethical behavior within their offices. According to De Cremer, it starts with the hiring committee looking for and finding the right traits in their potential employees.
The fact is you, can only build an open culture within your organization if you “actively seek those individuals inclined to speak up when ethical challenges surface.” The resulting six workplace traits outlined within the article were decided based on findings from behavioral sciences
6 Traits for Ethical Workplace Behavior
Individuals that reflect conscientiousness are some of the most likely to notice when something is unethical. These people tend to be “careful, reflective and reliable,” which also makes them relatively responsible employees. Another benefit of this trait is that these individuals also typically display higher levels of moral reasoning, which in turn, decreases antisocial, unethical and criminal behavior.
The second trait that hiring committees should look for is moral attentiveness, which describes individuals who are aware when there is an ethical dilemma. These people tend to see ethical issues more clearly than others.
It’s not just enough to recognize when there is a moral problem, organizations that desire more trust and openness should also look to hire people with a strong sense of duty. These individuals “tend to be loyal and mission-oriented,” which motivates them to take action when there is a perceived problem.
Just as employees should be loyal to your organization, they should also be strongly driven by the needs of their clients. Individuals who prioritize customers are “more ethical because they value the others’ needs as highly as their own and create fewer conflicts of interest in their relationships with others.” These individuals tend to be more likely and willing to notice and address ethical violations.
Employees that recognize ethical dilemmas won’t be of value to your company unless they are also the type of individual who will act on what they see. Assertiveness is essential to building an ethical workplace, particularly when it comes to ensuring that you have employees who don’t give in to pressure. Assertive people tend to question morally ambiguous situations, even if the rest of the group conforms.
Finally, your organization should focus on hiring individuals who are proactive about making changes. When it comes to ethical issues, proactive people “more often and more quickly” engage “in acts of whistle-blowing.” Proactivity can be an especially valuable trait for companies that seriously stress the importance of ethics.
In the end, while all the above characteristics are highly useful for an organization, it’s important to remember “individuals do not act in isolation.” The traits should be used to help develop a “blueprint of the kind of employee” a company should be looking for. However, the effectiveness of these features depends on the approach of the entire organization.
To learn more about behavioral ethics, power, social influence, social decision-making, etc., MBAs at Cambridge Judge should consider joining the Organisational Leadership & Decision-Making group. The group is dedicated to research and teaching in understanding how individual human behavior shapes organizations and how those institutions, in turn, affect their employees. The group regularly conducts quantitative research, even running the Experimental Laboratory.
About Professor David De Cremer
Professor De Cremer teaches MBA, EMBA and executive level courses at Cambridge Judge Business School. His focus is on organizational behavior, corporate social responsibility, ethics, contemporary issues in leadership, trust as a business asset, negotiations and decision-making. Outside of the classroom, De Cremer is an Associate Editor of the Academy of Management Annals as well as being an editorial board member on various other journals and magazines.
He is also the author of the book Pro-active Leadership: How to Overcome Procrastination and Be a Bold Decision-Maker and the forthcoming Huawei: Leadership, Culture and Connectivity
Throughout his career, De Cremer has received several awards for his scientific work. He was named the most influential economist in the Netherlands (2009-2010), and in 2016, he was named a Global Thought Leader by the Trust Across America.
To learn more about his experience and various work, you can visit his personal website.
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