How to retain employees with integrity

emmiCandice le Sueur  May 2016
As an ethicist I’m always curious to ask clients, acquaintances and friends this question: Are you happy at work? It is an important question, since most of our energy and waking time is ploughed into work and frankly, we need to be happy in order to thrive. When the answer is “no” I poke and prod at what the reasons are.

In surprisingly few of the cases the reason is mainly financial and sounds something like “I work too hard for the salary I earn”. This almost always comes up eventually, but it is rarely the primary reason. So why are people unhappy at work? Why would they consider leaving? Well, I would like to share some of the main themes have come up in real conversations. The real reasons don’t seem to differ much between the public and private sectors and I suspect that is because we all have the same fundamental need for dignity, whether we are working towards a corporate profit or delivering good public service. The most common themes I’ve come across are a lack of trust between colleagues, a lack of transparency in the organisation and unfair treatment. Employees become angry, bitter and unhappy about these things, but it gets worse. I have seen tears, panic attacks and extreme unhappiness when the responses where (1) “I know what my seniors are getting up to, it is not good, and I feel like there is nothing I can do to stop it”, (2) “The way we do business will cause harm to the public and I am an accomplice”, (3) “I feel like I’m constantly walking into a brick wall when I want to do things the right way and no one will listen to or support me”,  (4) “Leadership is so corrupt that I am scared”, and (5) “I don’t know how to deal with the unethical things taking place and it is causing problems with my health and my family”. These are all reasons based on conscience, which indicates some level of integrity. Although unhappy employees have diverse reasons for their unhappiness, they do have one thing in common: they want to leave their current employment.

We know that to effectively deal with risks related to fraud, corruption, reputational damage and organisational inefficiency, an organisations’ first line of defence is to employ the best people – people with the necessary skills and integrity as this lowers the risk of misconduct. However, employees with integrity will want to work in an environment that supports and rewards ethical behaviour and allows them opportunities for moral maturation. If the work environment cannot offer this, these employees – the ones with integrity – will leave sooner or later and the company or organisation will have lost an employee with the right moral fibre, as well as all the years of experience and knowledge the employee has gained. They may even leave to join the competition.

The moral of the story is that companies and other organisations need to take care of their “employees with integrity” by creating an organisational culture that is a good fit for them; that is an ethical organisational culture with open communication avenues and ethically solid leadership. As a bonus, a healthy ethical culture should shake some of the bad apples out of the tree as well, since they will no longer be comfortable to stay.

My advice to any organisation wanting to retain their employees with integrity is simple: Recruit the right people and create the right environment for them to thrive in. If you need some assistance to achieve this – contact us, we are waiting for your call.


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