The rise of the ethical workplace


Today’s businesses require ethical leaders who can offer a visionary approach to business, as well as a democratic underpinning to an organisation’s working practices.

In the aftermath of the most recent financial crisis, there is a lot of soul searching currently being undertaken by a high number of organisations all wanting to offer a ‘new way’ in their business objectives, purpose and ways of working. In the years leading up to the crisis, business practices were straightjacketed by an obsession with maximising profit above any other agenda. This included employees, whose engagement was often exploited rather than supported.

This way of working is now an anathema to many – both leaders and employees. People no longer want to work for organisations that offer tough love and limited vision. Instead, they want to feel engaged with the business; they want a voice that is listened to by senior executives; they want to feel they are developing; they want to work for an organisation that shares their identity and ambitions, and helps to reinforce it in everything they do. It’s a big ask, but one that employers can no longer ignore because, as research shows, the brightest employees often leave organisations when they feel isolated and less empowered.

Post-financial crisis, talented employees are considered major assets in helping businesses grow and develop its offering – whether product or service. Hiring and retaining talent comes at a premium, and, contrary to popular opinion, this premium is no longer high wages and a substantial benefits package. Rather, talented workers are now looking for more from businesses, including a sense of working towards a higher goal, or being part of something meaningful and, preferably, sustainable. Organisations that offer and communicate a purpose – beyond simply profit – give something tangible that employees can engage with. The obsession with maximising shareholder value and profit as the purpose of all business is deeply damaging for organisations and skews our understanding of human motivation by limiting it to nothing more than greed and competition.

The new, ethical business must have a purpose that delivers long-term sustainable performance. Simply focusing on transactions and sales promotes short termism. Ideally the new business will define its purpose as both business and social – helping to serve and establish improvements in society, aligned with its own interests. The business would design and deliver products and/or services that are true to this new approach. No longer would it be necessary to outsource a sense of altruism to CSR programs. Now the identity and core purpose of the whole business is embedded into the heart of the business and directs everything it does.

This is the type of business model that attracts talent and keeps employees engaged. After all, we are descendants from very successful co-operators. Not everything evolves out of survival of the fittest journey and the best in society have a social tendency – good employees are no different.