Perspective of women and men

COVID’s impact on organisational ethical culture aspects

What aspect of ethical culture was the most negatively influenced by the COVID pandemic and increased virtualisation?

Our research found that organisations continued to create an ethical culture during the pandemic period. However, there was one dimension that fell victim to the virtual environment that shifted the world of work. This was ethics talk, which is the degree to which employees feel comfortable to discuss ethical issues with other employees and their managers/supervisors, talk about ethics and the ethical implications of business decisions, and bring ethics into both formal and informal engagements in day-to-day work.

This outcome is somewhat worrying as ethics talk is important for the following reasons:

  1. It is an essential component of cascading ethics through the organisation to ensure ethical dilemmas that are encountered and ways to overcome these dilemmas are jointly discussed. This can ensure ethical readiness is built in the organisation. Moreover, all stakeholders in the organisation feel included in the discussion, feel safe to raise concerns, and trust that something will be done about ethical challenges and dilemmas. 
  2. Ethics dialogue manifests when employees and the organisation (i.e., its leadership and management structures) engage in two-way communication regarding ethics and the organisation’s ethical values and context. It is vital that employees engage in ethics dialogue with the aim of reaching a mutually beneficial decision or outcome, especially with factors that may affect them. This allows employees to walk away with a shared understanding and resolution to certain critical ethical challenges, thus building their moral reasoning skills and improving the ‘moral intelligence’ of the organisation.  
  3. Discussions about ethics should be both formal (i.e., meetings and formal discussions) and informal (i.e., passing talk about right and wrong outside of formal structures in the organisation). Ethics talks are highly reliant on ensuring a conducive and open environment created by leadership for communication about ethics.
  4. 4.Incorporating perspectives from both sides (i.e., across the management – employee spectrum) ensure that all views are taken into consideration instead of focusing on only what the organisation needs. 

A decrease in ethics talk may result in less buy-in regarding the ethical values and ethical stance of the organisation over time. Additionally, the organisation and its management may be less aware of real and practical ethical dilemmas faced in employees’ day-to-day work due to a lack of two-way communication regarding ethics.

In conclusion, it is vital that organisations do not forget to make time for ethics discussion and dialogue to ensure ethical issues are discussed, different perspectives are brought together, and the ethical values of the organisation are shared amongst employees. Ethics talk appears to be waning in the virtual world of work, and new and creative ways must be sought to build this valuable commodity into the organisation’s DNA. The alternative is a morally mute organisation that may be far more prone to making moral mistakes and be involved in scandal.