How to stop your team stealing the staplers

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 17:33

We recently wrote about a simple ethical dilemma: If you had the right triggers, would you steal the office stapler?

While this is may be a challenge to a person's own ethical compass, many managers also have to think about whether they are encouraging or discouraging this sort of behaviour among staff. To put it another way, if you are leading a team of stapler-stealers, what can you do?

67 per cent of companies are using ethical conduct as a KPI.

Does your office culture encourage or inhibit immoral behaviour?

One of the key factors in whether staff will end up behaving immorally is whether this sort of behaviour is promoted or discouraged through the organisation's culture.

In this case, your mind might drift to the cliche of a dishonest car dealership, but this sort of behaviour is rarely as visible to the naked eye. Take for example a sales team that is encouraged to make steep sales targets with very little oversight on the way these are achieved. While hitting KPIs isn't immoral, when it happens in a context where there isn't this ethical framework in place it can indirectly encourage the wrong sort of behaviour among staff.

Some organisations are already responding by placing a greater focus on ethics by integrating ethical behaviour into performance management efforts. In fact, the most recent US National Business Ethics Survey found that 67 per cent of companies are using ethical conduct as a core staff KPI.

The ethics of tomorrow's workforce

It isn't enough to just think about current approaches to ethics in the workplace, you also need to consider how new workers are looking to work with an employer who meets their standards for ethical behaviour.

This is particularly true with millennials, the much-discussed newest generation in the workplace. One of the most consistent desires for these workers is to work for a company which they believe is doing good and meets their own standards for ethical behaviour. In fact, a study from Bentley University found that 97 per cent of millennials are looking to work for an ethical organisation.

If new workers are coming into a team of stapler-stealers, this disconnect between their expectations and the reality of the team may lead to higher turnover and lower engagement among these newer workers. With PricewaterhouseCoopers estimating that this generation will make up 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020, companies can't overlook the ethical expectations of their newest employees.

You'll have to resist that desire to steal the stapler, if you want to convince others to do the same.

Addressing the gap in ethical behaviour

If you've decided it's time to lower that budget for replacing staplers, there are a number of approaches you can take. As mentioned above, culture sits at the heart of any dishonest or immoral behaviour in the workplace, so it's important to consider whether the processes and workflows of your business are promoting or hindering this activity.

Addressing culture can also be done through a number of specific mechanisms. Beyond the aforementioned use of codes of conduct, The Society for Human Resources Management suggests integrating ethical concerns into professional training courses and personal development, as well as the company's onboarding and communication processes. These mechanisms can be supplemented by integrating ethical considerations into HR processes like promotions and pay increases.

These specific changes all have a role to play in developing ethical behaviour among your direct reports. At the end of the day, managers have to be practising what they preach if they want to see a measurable improvement in the ethics of their team.

This means you'll have to resist that desire to steal the stapler, if you want any chance of convincing others to do the same.