But when leadership comes up lacking in the ethics department, overly dedicated staff may continue to execute faithfully and without question, potentially to the organization’s detriment. This is not to say that staff carrying out orders are entirely at fault. Leaders directing staff to act unethically are equally as responsible, if not more so.
Joerg Dietz, writing for HR Magazine, reminds us of the Arthur Andersen/Enron scandal, one very well-known example of over-commitment and the harm it can cause. He quotes former employee Barbara Ley Toffler in saying, “their overarching commitment to the firm and what it stood for – and the firm’s efforts to shape that behavior were, to me and to many others, cult-like. It would never occur to employees to question any practice, despite the cosmic changes taking place both inside and outside the firm.”
Dietz points out that employees consumed with their role – those dedicated to the point of viewing their work as an extension of themselves – are more likely to carry out unethical requests. While a degree of commitment is beneficial, blind loyalty can be problematic. Staff must be mindful about the potential impact of their actions on themselves, the company at large and its stakeholders. Ethics training can be helpful in teaching employees how to recognize and respond when they realize something is amiss.
It’s also worth noting that highly committed employees can be intentionally abused by those in power and leveraged to achieve ill-gotten gains. To prevent this, a warning system or anonymous reporting program should be in place, as well as an institutionalized decision-making body focused on upholding ethics in the organization.Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.