Could Unethical Behavior Cost a Business Its Best Employees?

In a recent column in Forbes magazine, a frustrated manager at an undisclosed company asks Forbes employment expert and advice columnist Liz Ryan why her top employees keep leaving.

Ms. Ryan, a former Fortune 500 human resources executive, recognizes an obvious answer to her questioner’s problem: bad employees push good ones away. Ms. Ryan goes on to critique her questioner, pointing out the manager’s own flawed response to her star employee’s otherwise professional exit from their software development team.

Ms. Ryan correctly identifies the source of her questioner’s problem as an issue that originates at the top of an organization and not the bottom.

Because managers play favorites, because some allow their employees wide latitude to do whatever they want, including taking advantage or bullying their fellow employees, and because these facts can create an unbalanced and often oppressive workplace environment–employees with talent and skill will always be tempted to flee a caustic or unfair circumstance back into a marketplace hungry for skilled talent.

When an organization develops a culture of personal indulgence and hostility towards corporate ethics and compliance, those employees without a protector in HR may become prey for their aggressively unethical suitemates.

If a talented, star, employee watches as their coworkers are degraded or harassed and corporate fails to respond accordingly, that employee will feel unsafe and unappreciated. This scenario becomes all the more critical when the star employee is the subject of unethical attention themselves.

When this happens, people start to leave. And high turnover is one of the greatest predictors of the imminent failure of business, whether it’s a small mom and pop store in rural Kansas or a massive multi-national with offices across the globe.

A company is only as effective as its employees are satisfied.

But What Can Be Done To Curb Unethical Behavior And Retain Star Employees?

The best way to retain your key team members is to ensure a safe and fair work space is a daily norm and not some goal to be reached or an abstract expectation to be discussed in the occasional human resources powerpoint presentation.  To meet this objective, an organization must produce and popularize clear guidelines for employee behavior, and then enforce penalties for those who violate these guidelines.

A workplace is a community of people, and all communities of people require some structure by which to resolve their disputes and govern their lives together. An effective human resources department should be able to do this for its employees, and then some.

Finally, the most thorough and efficient way to achieve this end is the installation of a self-policing regime centered around the anonymous reporting of employee misconduct. When employees can engage with an anonymous online reporting system and/or with an anonymous telephone hotline, that employee must feel assured that management is keeping a close eye on their safety and well-being.

By fostering an environment of fairness, candor, and equality through the artful deployment of human resources instruments like the anonymous hotline, organizations big and small can keep their most vital asset–their workforce–safe and satisfied. And safe and satisfied employees are much less likely to walk away from that safety and satisfaction for the unknown environment of a rival or competitor.