Ethical behavior begets Ethical Behavior: How Off Field Activity at the World Cup Reflects Integrity in the Workplace

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Soccer stadium

By Mary Shirley, Head of Culture of Integrity and Compliance Education at Fresenius Medical Care and Co-host of the Great Women in Compliance podcast

During the World Cup, Team Japan fans drew the world’s attention and admiration for cleaning up the stadium after games. Their model behavior then inspired other fans in attendance to follow suit, together showing respect for their surrounds and fellow humans who would otherwise have been tasked with cleaning up the mess.

The same effects apply in our workplaces. Ethical behavior begets ethical behavior. Workplaces with strong cultures of integrity are 90% less likely to observe misconduct. Read that again.

Witnessing unethical behavior, including incivility in the workplace reduces morale and in some cases, even encourages more unethical behavior from initial bystanders.

How can we best leverage this knowledge?

  1. It’s easier to cultivate a culture of integrity when everyone is working towards that goal. Hiring people who share the same ethical values as the organization from the start is one of the most effective ways to go about this. Compliance can collaborate with HR to include a tricky ethical dilemma as part of the screening process when looking to fill open roles and ask candidates to walk the interviewer through their thought process as to how they would address the situation if faced with that scenario themselves. Take a fact matrix from an investigation or internal audit finding to make it realistic. Or try the question: What’s the most challenging aspect of having to work within a Compliance program?
  2. Have a consistent approach to disciplinary action. It should not matter how highly the organization prizes an individual. Even if they’re super senior or bring in the big revenue bucks, they should be held to the same standards as everyone else. Consider working with HR to implement a disciplinary action framework that goes across all businesses and geographies to help set global standards and expectations to work within in instances of misconduct.
  3. Shine a light on ethical behavior and be transparent about misconduct. Though some organizations are reluctant to air dirty laundry, every company I have heard of that has implemented an initiative for sanitizing cases and associated consequences then made the information available to all staff to review, has reported that doing so has been well received by the business. If the idea of an intranet page solely dedicated to this makes you nervous, try one case/fact matrix that really does need to be made an example of and communicate on that as a pilot or test run.

By taking these steps, we can encourage a workplace environment where people not only pick up their own trash, but the trashy folk who threaten a culture of integrity are not given a chance to litter our ethical vibes and compromise our shared values in the first place.