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How should you manage somebody within your workplace if they have a terrible work ethic?

managing a bad work ethic

The elevator-pitch description of ethics in the workplace can refer to the way employees govern themselves and their work attitude, but it can also refer to the morality or lack thereof surrounding a workplace and can broadly be encompassed within the workplace culture of your business.

Even in 2020, it doesn’t matter whether you work from home or commute to work every day or employ a hybrid working model; a positive work ethic is required to build a successful career for your staff as well as producing a positive workplace culture within your business

For HR teams, dealing with poor work ethic can be a significant challenge, and more importantly, without it being nipped in the bud as early as possible, it can snowball into a much wider issue. For example, once employees see others breaking the rules without repercussions, they may start to think it’s excusable for them to do so as well and before you know it, that behaviour has become the norm in your workplace.

More so, ‘ignoring’ or passing over bad ethics in the workplace sends the message to your team that not only will the behaviour go unaddressed, it communicates that it’s acceptable, and long-term, they may view the company in a negative light and choose to leave. This is due to its impact on the work culture where misconduct is tolerated, resulting in higher turnover, lower productivity, and ultimately, a diminished reputation and profitability.

This article will look at how you can identify, engage, and manage a display of poor worker ethics within your company.

What are some examples of unethical behaviours in the workplace?

Some of the most common, but not limited to, examples of workplace ethical lapses fall under the following categories:

Lying: Lying kills trust, affects relationships and may even put people in trouble through its impact. There are different situations where employees lie in the workplace, from how far they are on a project, to the extent of their skills when being interviewed, or even how many meetings a sales representative has had in the past month.

Taking credit for the work of others: A typical showcase of poor work ethic is when others take credit for other team member’s hard work. For example, a team member may have brought an idea that helped the sales team improve. However, others may not mention the team member’s name when giving a report but claim the idea as theirs.

Verbal Harassment/Abuse: Employees need to avoid using foul, offensive or even condescending language on co-workers in and out of the workplace.

Extended Breaks: Companies will give employees both breaks and lunch periods, where they’re free to do whatever they want, within reason, such as go for a walk, buy some food, or pick up something from town, during these breaks. Employees, however, may, without consulting their boss take advantage of these breaks and extend them beyond time without prior agreement with their line managers approval.

Preferential Treatment: Employees who receive special treatment at work, whether from patronage, friendship, or sexual/romantic relationships, are privy to unfair and unethical favouritism, which is unethical from the perspective that all employees should be treated equally.

Gossiping: Spreading untrue rumours about colleagues, company projects and plans, or anything related to work culture is unethical and indicative that an employee cannot be trusted regarding discretion and privacy.

How can you approach fixing unethical issues within your workplace?

Workplace ethics can be challenging to resolve, because like with any process, you must follow a correct procedure to protect your company, give all the parties a fair chance at defending themselves, and ensure that you seem to be dealing with it correctly by others from within your company.

When you need to address bad behaviour, you need to be ready to:

  1. Make a brief, factual summary of what happened.
  2. Explain what you feel to be the negative impact.
  3. Describe how the incident made you, or one of your team members, feel (frustrated or disappointed, for example).
  4. State how you would like to see that behaviour modified, and agree on some targets if appropriate.

With that being said, there are typically four ways that you can solve the issues of unethical issues in the workplace, that being:

1) Make sure you have a policy in place: Your workplace needs to have predefined policies and workflows to help remind people about the rules, establish expected practices, and outline the consequences of deviating from the rules. That way, if anyone wants to ignore the regulations despite seeing them, the fear of getting punished will stop them from going ahead.

2) Accept Feedback/Complaint: Make it easy for employees to send feedback or complaints in case of harassment, abuse, or any other unethical activities in the workplace. This will help make people feel comfortable reporting breaches in ethics if they know there’s a private way to do so.

3) Swift Justice/Disciplinary Action: Irrespective of who breaks the rule, whether it’s the receptionist, your best salesperson or even the CEO, there should be swift disciplinary action by the organisation. Whilst you need to ensure due process is undertaken to conduct a fair investigation, you must make sure that any investigation is being undertaken in due course with documentation so that unethical behaviour can be investigated and stopped if found to be active in your workplace.

What can you do with your unethical employee?

Whatever you do, you must make sure you stay calm and objective and be ready to listen to what the other person has to say. With that being said, there are two main ways of dealing with unethical employees:

1) Implement a performance improvement plan (PIP): Work with the employee to address any issues they face. Make sure that you explain the impact their negative attitude has on the rest of the team.

2) Remove Them: If you’ve tried performance management and haven’t seen any effect, this is ultimately the final step you can take. A team member with a negative attitude can destroy your project team from the inside out, and so then you have to consider whether this person is suitable for their role within your company.