Got ethics: Why ethical employees are important and how organizations can foster them.


Last week I posted about understanding and evaluating ethical leadership and this week I wanted to take it a step further and answer two questions; why are ethical employees important, and how does an organization foster ethical employees? Later, I will give organizational leaders strategies that promote upward ethical leadership among employees

Why are ethical employees important?

In sum, ethical actions improve an organization’s performance (Greenberg, 2005). Specifically, ethical behavior has shown to lead to improvements in several areas (MAALA Business for Social Responsibility, 2002):

1.) Financial performance

2.) Reduced operating costs

3.) Enhanced reputation

4.) Increased ability to attract and retain employees

How to foster ethical employees?

There are two ways to foster ethical employees:

1.) Leaders fostering ethics in their employees

2.) Exhibition of ethical behaviors among employees

Uhl-Bien & Carsten (2007) suggest that organizations can foster upward ethical leadership by creating and supporting cultures that recognize the value of employee leadership and rewarding individuals who demonstrate the courage to speak up. I would now like to give organizational leaders some strategies that will promote upward ethical leadership among from their employees, but first I will define the term (Uhl-Bien & Carsten, 2007).

Upward ethical leadership is defined as leadership behaviors performed by employees who act to maintain higher ethical standards in spite of questionable or unethical moral conduct from their superiors (Uhl-Bien & Carsten, 2007).

1.) Strategies for leaders to foster upward ethical leadership:

Move away from command-and-control cultures.  Instead, organizations should encourage all employees to become active partners in the leadership process.

Promote ethical climates. Establish strong ethical codes of conduct, easily accessible venues and hotlines for employees to report incidents of unethical behavior, and strict assurance that retaliation against employees who come forward will not be tolerated.

Rethink how you see leadership. Recognize that leadership can occur at any level of the organization and by anyone who works to effect productive change in a system (being a leader does not require being in a managerial position).

Foster climates of responsibility rather than hierarchy. All employees should be empowered and be accountable for promoting ethical behavior that helps the organization be successful.

Value upward leadership.  Encourage and reward questions and well-intended push-back (being grateful to for employees who provide honest feedback, even if it is not easy to hear). Provide training in upward leadership skills such as communication and proactive problem-solving.

Second, employees can also proactively prepare themselves for upward ethical leadership. Here are some strategies for employees to become an ethical leader, even when their boss may not be (Uhl-Bien & Carsten, 2007).

2.) Upward ethical leadership strategies for employees:

Establish your personal power. Knowing how you bring value to the organization can reduce your feelings of dependency. In addition, establishing strong networks within your organization can produce power in numbers and sources of advice and support.

Know when it is right to question authority. Trust your moral compass to tell you when something is not right. If you feel something is wrong, gather evidence and talk to your network to help you decide on a course of action.

Develop your upward leadership skills. Pushing ideas or concerns up may require a different set of skills. Learn to communicate so your concerns will be heard. Don’t discount your ethical responsibility—learn to think about problems and solutions in proactive ways.

Don’t succumb to fear climates. Be willing to “break the norm” of silence—usually the fears are unfounded. Knowing how to communicate information in non-offensive ways will often resolve the problem.

Continually work to uphold your reputation and credibility. Having credibility will add leverage to your concern and increase the likelihood that you will be heard.




Greenberg, J. (2005). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

MAALA Business for Social Responsibility. (2002). Corpoate social responsibility. Tel Aviv, Israel: Author (also at Verschoor, C.C. (1998). A study of the link between corporation’s financial performance and its commitment to ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 17, 1516. Embley, L.L. (1993). Doing well while doing good. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Uhl-Bien, M., & Carsten, M. K. (2007). Being ethical when the boss is not.


2 thoughts on “Got ethics: Why ethical employees are important and how organizations can foster them.

  1. Pingback: The essence of effective leadership | Leadership Archways

  2. Pingback: What makes someone a transformational leader? | Leadership Archways

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s