Reward Ethical Conduct

What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, and what gets rewarded gets repeated.

John E. Jones, III

Most employers say they want staff and stakeholders to engage in ethical behavior and to promote their organization’s ethical culture. One way to encourage behavior that promotes an ethical culture is to measure and monitor it, because what gets measured gets done.

But there’s more to it. Pennsylvania district court judge John E. Jones, III reportedly went on to say “… and what gets rewarded gets repeated.” When it comes to ethics, a Baylor University study agrees: “employers who promote ethics should reward workers who exhibit them” (Baylor news release, 2016).

The news release further quotes study author Marlene Neill, Ph.D.: “promoting core values is a way to engage employees and increase their commitment and loyalty to the organization and at the same time encourage ethical decision making.”

Neill’s study looked at into how new employees are introduced to values and ethics during recruitment and orientation (in what is called employer branding), the types of ethics resources provided, and how ethics and values are reinforced (Neill, 2016).

The motivation behind employer branding, per the study, is to improve employee engagement in the organization’s mission and values. Employer branding typically begins with new employee orientations that not only provide information about benefits, policies, and processes, but also promote ethics and values.

There is risk, however, if employees come to believe that their employer does not “walk the talk” of ethical culture and other values, so it is important to continually communicate the values through words and deeds. The study makes the following recommendations:

  • Employers should communicate ethics in a culturally relevant way through employee testimonials and historical anecdotes.
  • Employers should review their core values to identify any inconsistencies with their policies and reward systems and then make necessary revisions.
  • Employers should review their recruitment and orientation materials for inclusion of core values and consistency with their employer brand.
  • Employers should evaluate their existing ethics programs and determine if any additional resources should be added.
  • Employers should conduct routine surveys to determine how employees rate the company/organization’s performance in regards to their core values.
  • Employers should evaluate and reward employees who model ethical behavior through annual performance reviews and awards programs.

The last point is an important one. It is common for employers promote an ethical culture by telling employees ethical behavior is “the right thing to do,” by developing and disseminating polices that prohibit unethical behavior, by making employees aware of possible legal restraints, and by providing training and tools, such as ethics hotlines.

It is not so common for employers to incorporate ethical behavior into ongoing performance evaluations and reward systems as a matter of course. But best practice employers seem to do just that.

In its report “Leading Practices from the 2016 World’s Most Ethical Companies,” Ethisphere tells us that leading companies are more apt to include ethical conduct in performance evaluations and recognition programs (Ethisphere, 2016). Various approaches include:

  • Formal evaluation of ethical conduct as part of employee evaluations or annual performance reviews
  • Formal evaluation of ethical business conduct as part of promotion decisions
  • Formal component of manager bonus or other compensation determinations
  • Awards and recognition showcasing ethical business conduct

It’s good to remember—what gets rewarded gets repeated!

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Contact us for more information.


Baylor University. “Employers Who Promote Ethics Should Reward Workers Who Exhibit Them, Baylor Study Suggests,” (news release), August 17, 2016.

Ethisphere. “Excerpts from the Leading Practices Report,” (web page)

Neill, Marlene S. “The Influence of Employer Branding in Internal Communication,” Research Journal of the Institute for Public Relations, August 2016.