HR: The Gatekeepers of Ethical Behaviour

Problem-solving concept. Bad and good
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The responsibility that keeps growing.

The RCMP Commissioner, Bob Paulson, issued a teary-eyed apology in response to decades-long direct and systemic sexual harassment claims that have plagued the RCMP. This apology was issued after a $100 million settlement in this case.

Click here to read about the apology.

Apologies are needed and are required as they are the fundamental rebuilding blocks of any human relationship. That being said, HR Professionals should strive to never have to apologize for their behaviour or the behaviour of their organization. Apologies for simple mistakes and mishaps are acceptable, but HR should never have to apologize for a systemic issue or a breach of ethics. It is HR’s job to ensure that there should be no need for apology in the first place.

The Human Resources function and the profession requires us to be the gate keepers of and for ethical proactive organizational behaviour. This requires an accountability and a responsibility to ensure ethical behaviour from all individuals within the organization.

Below are some of the ethical competency standards from the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources in Canada (CPHR):

  • Adhere to ethical standards for human resources professionals by modeling appropriate behaviour to balance the interests of all stakeholders.
  • Adhere to legal requirements as they pertain to human resources policies and practices to promote organizational values and manage risk.
  • Recommend ethical solutions to the organization’s leadership by analyzing the variety of issues and options to ensure responsible corporate governance and manage risk.

Click here to see the Canadian Centre of Human Resources Association (CPHR) HR competency Framework.

As rational managers it is our obligation as HR professionals to act not only rationally but also ethically. HR professionals cannot allow the unethical behaviour to seep knowingly or unknowingly into their organization.

HR ethical responsibility just keeps growing. HR has to use standards, policies and practices to ensure ethical organizational standards, and sometimes the pressure to behave unethically is overwhelming to the HR professional. That is when the HR professional must stand their ground and sometimes make very difficult ethical decisions.

When I was a young middle manager in HR with very little formal authority or organizational influence, I was confronted with a profound ethical situation. At that time I was working for a printing company that was allowing illegal immigrants, all women and their children, to come into the printing plant during the night shift and stuff flyers into newspapers. It was appalling.  These were dangerous sweatshop-like conditions, especially for young children. I brought this to the attention of the plant manager and the VP of HR. They told me that due the owner having a 51% controlling interest in the company they could not do anything about it.

I had to make a decision.

I was told the situation would not change. I made the decision to quit the HR position as I did not want to have any responsibility when things went wrong. It was a very hard decision at the time for personal reasons. I needed to be employed, but I could not stay with this organization and be compliant with unethical, illegal conduct.

Did I do enough? As I reflect back, I did not. I never reported this violation and this haunts me to this day. I do not know if it stopped or if a child ever got seriously hurt. I just walked away!

If you are ever in a workplace situation and you see your organization about to make an unethical decision, do not just walk away. Your professional voice must be heard!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Research a company that has been caught acting unethically in some way through a root cause analysis.
  2. Identify five key things HR could have done to prevent the ethical breach.

Mutiny on the Campus!

What should an HR Department do, when employees revolt against the organization?

This is a question that the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, has to consider! As reported by CBC on March 29, 2016, 62% of the UBC Faculty Association Members have “no confidence” in the UBC Board of Directors. This news story should put every HR department on high alert.

Click Here to Read the Article.

What does a motion of non-confidence really mean, anyway?  A vote of non-confidence means one party believes the other party is “not fit to hold that position.” So 62% of the UBC Faculty is saying that the Board of Directors is not fit to provide strategic leadership nor to run the operations of the university. In reality, the vote of non-confidence has no legal binding power but it does send the significant message that the HR department should be very concerned.

This is not the forum to discuss the specifics of the UBC case; however, the case open the opportunity to discuss what an HR department should do if a majority of employees uses their collective voice to deliver a message of opposition to the organizational as a whole. In essence, what should you do if your employees verbally revolt against a company’s decision, policy or direction? How should HR respond?

  • Does HR ignore the complaint?
  • Does HR try to compromise with employees?
  • Does HR negotiate with the employees?
  • Does HR terminate the employees?

What is the best way to respond?

All of the current research states that Human Resources must move from transactional to strategic actions and one of the most beneficial strategic tools to use is organizational environmental scanning.  Many organizations do a very thorough job of external environmental scanning; however, few organizations do a very comprehensive job of conducting internal environmental scans.

Having a sound understanding of the pulse of your employee’s voices is a requirement in today’s organizations.  If the organization is not listening to those voices, it is far too easy for employees to find an external outlet that will listen to their positive or negative collected voice in public.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine you are working for a HR consulting firm and UBC has asked you to provide advice on how to respond to this vote of employee non-confidence. What advice would you give to UBC?  As a starting point UBC has asked you specifically to address what would happen if they chose the following actions?
    • Ignore the non-confidence vote
    • Seek a compromise
    • Negotiate with the UBC Faculty Association
    • Termination of the employees that voted against their employer

Check Your Sources

Every year end, industries look back or look forward at their performance. This is particularly true for strategic HR planning as it is key to look forward and try to predict where the work world is going?

According to Robin Domanik Havre’s blog, there are seven interesting trends for 2016 that all HR Practitioners should be aware of:

  1. Some 3.6 million baby boomers are set to retire in 2016
  2. Millennial’s are moving into the work world and soon they will make up 20% of the workforce
  3. Greater time flexibility is a key to attract new employees
  4. Office design must be taken seriously, the way you design your workplace does affect productivity
  5. Big data: from buzzword to actual thing, big data and HRIS will be disruptive technologies in the working world
  6. Greater transparency, if your organization has to say, “it is transparent,” then it is not. Organizational transparency is a feeling not a statement
  7. More immediate feedback is a must to actually change employee behaviour and performance

Click Here to Visit the Blog.

The trends listed above are happening now and all organizations should be developing strategic plans on how to address them.  All seven might not apply to all organizations right away, but they soon will.

Let’s dig a little deeper and ask ourselves – are these actual HR trends for 2016?  Let’s check the source?   Robin Domanik Havre’s is a blogger – here is his bio.:

“Robin Domanik Havre is the CEO of New Intranet. He’s helped many companies deploy successful mobile intranets that are easy to use and specially designed for employees not working in front of a computer. The goal of this blog is to provide research-backed intranet and internal communications advice for more successful HR strategies.”

The goal of his blog is to provide research backed intranet and internal communications advice for more successful HR strategies.

He may have great supported research or he may not, nowhere on his site are his sources of research noted.  We just don’t know!

As an HR professional it is easy to fall into the online research trap.  Just because it is online does not make it true. Before you start to implement any HR programs make sure you have true, creditable research to defend your position.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think these seven (7) trends are valid?  Your VP of HR has asked you to pick two trends that you think are most relevant to your vision of HR. Pick two trends and research the topics with the goal to support your position.
  2. Once you have validated your position with research, what executable plan(s) will you recommend to implement the plan(s) in order to stay ahead of the trend?

Social and Cultural Obligations

Many of us know about Amazon from a consumer’s perspective, some Human Resources (HR) Professionals are aware of it’s corporate culture of: high pressure, high turnover, and seeing how far it can push it’s executives.  Mr. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, might be starting to see the cracks in his corporate culture and philosophy.

HRM Canada writes about Amazon’s corporate culture, and it is not pretty.  HRM Canada states that some warehouse workers feel that working there is like “a stint in prison“; How is that for employee engagement?

Click Here to Read the Article

Renowned culture expert, Stan Slap agrees. Slap told HRM that, “cultivating a positive employee culture is one of the most important keys to a company success.  Underestimating the importance of culture, he claims, is one of the biggest mistakes HR and organizations can make.”

From all external reports it looks like Amazon has underestimated the importance of culture. According to Slap, “the first – and perhaps most important step – is to recognize that this is a business issue, not a behavioural issue.”

All HR professionals should memorize Slap’s quote.  There are times where corporate culture is a behavioural issue, but in most cases, corporate culture is created by leadership and its direction of the business.

Discussion Question:

  1. As a HR Professional you have been asked to audit an organizations corporate culture. Considering Stan Slap’s quote, “the first- and perhaps most important step – is to recognize that this is a business issue, not a behavioural issue” , how would you address this issue in your initial audit assessment?