Is the Future of Work looking gloomy in terms of ethical performance?

Natalia Blagoeva · 8 min · 27.05.2017

According to an article published at swissinfo.ch on April 16, 2017, “a representative survey of 1,000 people by Transparency International in the SonntagsZeitung found that 23% of Swiss considered business managers corrupt.”

According to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, Switzerland is 5th least corrupt country out of 176 and we can only imagine what the situation is in other countries. On the issue of private sector corruption worldwide, Transparency International published that according to one third of executives surveyed by Ernst & Young “corruption was getting worse.”

Changes in the Organizations’ Landscape

Corruption is not the only reason businesses make the headlines. There has been more than one corporate scandal with epic proportions leaving us wonder about the future of our world.

As a result, we see more and more people (especially Millenniums) turning their backs to the traditional corporate world and choosing new organizations which are purpose-driven, self-managed and allow people to bring their whole-selves to work. For many people, such organizations are the backbone of a new world of more ethical, engaged and sustainable workplaces.

However, is that enough? Is that all it will take to improve businesses’ ethical performance?

Why so Many Corporate Wrongdoings in the First Place?

In the above article Guido Palazzo, professor of Corporate Ethics at the University of Lausanne, told the SonntagsZeitung: “time pressure to increase profits and reduce costs had increased. This could force staff to turn to illegal methods.” He added: “in most cases corruption isn’t the result of any character flaws on the part of employees but of aggressive targets set by the companies.”

I couldn’t agree more. Have you seen how people act when they fear for their future? When their sense of security, sense of belonging or self-esteem gets threatened? When their ability to provide for their family is endangered? When they are vulnerable, stressed, in a hurry or under pressure to perform (over and over again)?

Most of us are overwhelmed with all that goes on in our lives. We are focused on the next thing we need to take care of and the next challenge we need to deal with. While running from one thing to another, we often disconnect from our inner purpose and our innate integrity, we are “absent” and we act based on instincts. In this state of mind, almost each one of us is capable of wrongdoings and corruption given the right intensity of fear-based energy and stress to perform.

How Can We Ensure that the Future of Work Brings Better Ethical Performance?

Many of the startups that emerge in the last years appear to be more ethical. They are often purpose-driven and stand behind plausible causes. However, as stress piles up and they grow in number of people, they often face the same problems as their grownup predecessors.

How do we make sure that this does not happen?

First, we need to understand that ethical performance is less influenced by rational policies, procedures, morals and norms and is more dependent on the type of organizational culture we build. That includes how we collaborate, take decisions, approach problems and learn.

And that’s nothing new. The rhetoric of corporate values and corporate culture has been here for a while. The walls of offices are full of beautiful statements even in the organizations with the worst ethical performance.

However, how do we move from ethics and values being a decoration to something we truly embody?

First, Let’s See What to Look For

Here are some symptoms which are sure signs that the organizational culture is unhealthy:

  1. People are not readily accepting that their way of seeing things could be wrong.
  2. The same people are always hijacking meetings and the decision-making process.
  3. You almost never hear fundamentally different points of view. Diversity is unwelcome.
  4. People are scared for their jobs. They are scared to speak up and to be themselves.
  5. There is no energy in the organization. Many feel drained and even burned out.
  6. Management complains that there is no initiative. Employees complain nothing ever changes.
  7. People complain that meetings are boring and meaningless, or there is no time for discussions.
  8. People are not interested in being promoted.
  9. There are written rules and procedures but they are not followed.
  10. People often can be heard saying: „don’t put your heart into this!” or „this is not my job!“
  11. You can hear often „that’s impossible!“ or „this is how we do it here!“
  12. Only financial results are being measured and awarded.
  13. The vision, mission and values of the organization have not been revised for a long time.
  14. Office politics and “kitchen talk” prevail over constructive and open dialogue.
  15. Individual intelligence and rationale is valued more than collective intelligence and intuition.

The Remedy

If your intent is to have an organizational culture that sustainably supports ethical performance and the implementation of the business strategy, you need to foster the emotional, intuitive, spiritual, cultural, systems and collective intelligence of everybody in your organization, and constantly measure and invest in the culture you would like to foster.

Whether it is in an organization or society at large, it is not about rules and procedures, norms and morals; it is about mastering a whole new mindset.

Natalia Blagoeva is a Founder of Eudaimonia Solutions– a leadership and organizational development company, which works throughout Europe out of Zürich and Sofia. Natalia founded the company as a not-just-for-profit following her belief that to make the world a better place, we need to reimagine and co-create new ways to work, lead, and learn ...

Natalia Blagoeva, Human Resources, Information Technology

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