: Nan DeMars
The Manager’s Responsibility for the Ethical Office
Robert MacGregor, former president of the Minnesota Center for Corporate
Responsibility, told me once he has the same discussion with every assistant he
has ever hired. On the first day of the job, he tells them: “I’m going to be going
l00 miles per hour. You will be going l20 miles per hour to stay ahead of me. In
my haste to get a job done by deadline, if I ever appear to be cutting corners or
sliding into unethical practices in any regard, I WANT you to stop me. It is YOUR
responsibility to keep me on the ethical track. In other words, I want you to be my
That’s my dream! If every manager would have that conversation with every
employee he or she supervises, we would be well underway to establishing and
maintaining The Ethical Office.
The Ethical Office is a culture that fosters mutual respect, trust, and honest
communication among co-workers, customers, and vendors. The concept is
becoming another means for achieving competitive advantage, as companies
increasingly see the link between healthy profits and ethical cultures.
As a result, organizations today are:
Writing extensive codes of ethics/conduct
Expanding employee handbooks for guidelines
Incorporating ethics training (with discussions of reality-based case
Creating ethics hotlines (often anonymous)
Hiring ethics directors
Establishing ethics departments or appointing a human resource
representative “point person” whom employees can approach with ethical
This aggressive approach to championing The Ethical Workplace is paying off in
the following high dividends:
Productivity – Ethical employees outperform all others. They sell more
products, receive fewer service calls, and post superior profit margins. The
“personality” of an ethical office is healthy, energized, forward-looking,
confident, creative, and resourceful. It’s a real “can-do” place to work because
people are not confused about what is expected of them, nor are they stressed
Accountability – With a clear understanding of what is expected of them,
employees take responsibility and feel accountable for their personal behavior
and performance, regardless of their position. They take responsibility to
resolve ethical dilemmas. They place high value on personal integrity.
Communication –Employees want to talk about ethical dilemmas as they
arise. The manager who encourages this open communication will enjoy
earlier resolution of problems and less confusion (two cost-saving
Confidentiality – Information is power, and the unethical office has zero
confidentiality. Managers should emphasize the importance of erring on the
safe side and treating everything as confidential unless told otherwise.
Instilling this respect for the confidential office will result in buttoned-up
information about deadlines, prices, budgets, performance reviews, and
product services. Everyone wins here.
Stability – Employees stay in an ethical atmosphere, and that is cost-saving
in itself. The unethical office results in a revolving door in the human resource
department. And the costs associated with the departure of disgruntled
employees along with the resulting hiring of new employees are always high.
Predictability –The Ethical Office avoids being blindsided by surprises such
as harassment lawsuits and compromised security. In an ethical culture,
employees address ethical dilemmas as they surface and nip them in the bud
before they get out of hand.
Employees want to do the right thing—and they also want to trust the people they
work with every day. It is the manager’s responsibility to create the safe atmos-
phere of an Ethical Workplace for their employees. The rewards will be over-
Submitted by: Nan DeMars
7424 Cahill Road
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55439
Web site: www.office-ethics.com
Nan DeMars is an office ethics trainer/consultant and author of You Want Me To Do What?
(Simon & Schuster). She conducts training throughout the United States and in foreign countries.
In addition, she is president of Executary Services, a seminar/search/office ethics consultant firm