Building Work Ethic from the Top Down

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

Perhaps the biggest reason to establish and maintain an ethical workplace is attracting and retaining the highest quality workforce. Not only can you count on your workers to bring their best game to the worksite every day, but their high ethical standards will also help you to improve your organization’s reputation, market share, and profitability. One top tool for discovering top talent? Recruiting for and hiring workers who hold themselves to a high personal work ethic standard. 


A Strong Work Ethic Informs Job Performance, … 

Having a strong work ethic helps employees to make appropriate decisions when confronted by ambiguous business situations. Rather than choosing to find an ‘easy’ solution to a work problem, they elect to do the ‘right’ thing to accomplish the desired goal even though it may take more time and more effort. They also choose not to enhance their personal situation at the expense of their employer or colleagues. They actively engage in teamwork to further the best interest of everyone, including the business. Recruiting for and hiring people who declare a high personal sense of ethics can alleviate many human resource challenges over the long term.  


… Impacts Customer Satisfaction, …

Having a highly ethical workforce is also attractive to customers. Customers will return to vendors when they can trust that they will be respectfully treated and the quality of goods or services will always be high. This concept applies when purchasing items as well as when the company name is in the media. Companies with good products but poor business ethics rapidly lose credibility and can find themselves losing customers as quickly as those whose products are sub-par. 

In many cases, unethical work practices (not keeping sales promises, ‘price gouging,’ swapping inferior materials for advertised higher quality materials, i.e.) are or become apparent to consumers, giving them both the opportunity and a reason to shop elsewhere. 


… and Improves Financial Results. 

Companies that maintain high ethical standards across their operations also often enjoy higher levels of economic success for a variety of reasons:

Reduced risk of loss

Corporate management has an obligation to protect corporate assets, including those of the company and those of its stakeholders and investors. Ethical management of those assets ensures that the best interest of each stakeholder is considered when making business decisions and appropriately balanced when conflicts arise. Companies that develop a reputation for having ethically strong leadership attract more investors who are willing to invest more resources over time. 

Reduced expenses

Ethically managed companies often employ equally high-quality staff people and then pay them for all the values that they bring. These practices improve employee morale, not just for each worker but for the workforce as a whole. Maintaining a satisfied and productive workforce can reduce the costs incurred by hiring and onboarding new employees since happy workers don’t usually leave their satisfying jobs.

Greater customer loyalty

Acquiring new customers can be easy when introducing a fresh and novel product. Retaining customers over time isn’t so easy when the product quality they receive doesn’t match its advertising or when their calls for assistance go unanswered. Ethical workers will ensure that products retain their quality consistently and perform their customer service work with the same level of ethics with which they perform their other work. Happy customers will return to trusted vendors, and it’s much less expensive to engage with returning buyers than it is to look for new ones. 


One way to determine the high value of ethical business practices is to look for success in companies that pursue ethics as a primary business principle. Ethisphere was founded in 2006 to demonstrate that companies do better when they focus on doing business with integrity, invest in their communities, and look for long-term success over short-term gains. Each year, the company highlights the efforts of international corporations that demonstrate optimal business ethics regardless of the condition of their markets or regions. Not surprisingly, the companies that make the “World’s Most Ethical Companies®” honoree list are also globally known for providing consistent, reliable, and market-leading products and services. 


Building an Ethical Workforce

Building an ethical company requires building an ethical workforce, and assisting business leaders in doing that is the Center for Work Ethic Development (CWED). This organization provides training and support for companies that want to improve their fortunes by investing in the capacities and skillsets of their workers. Its simple premise is that helping employees realize their full potential also helps their employer businesses become more successful. Its training protocols follow a simple path:

instill values to drive behaviors;

train behaviors to impact outcomes;

emphasize that outcomes underscore results. 


The ‘A’ Game

The CWED embeds work ethic behaviors in its ‘soft skills’ training – those skills that facilitate communication, collaboration, and inclusiveness in work habits and practices. In too many training programs, potential workers gain necessary ‘hard skills’ – machine controls, keyboarding, the ‘how-to’s of work, etc. – without ever learning the soft skills needed to employ those skills while working within a team or collaborating through challenges. The ‘A’ Game teaches seven principles that, together, embody the values inherent in these soft skills:






Appreciation and   


When trained in these skills, workers in any occupation can improve both their personal performance and contribute more value to their employer’s success. 

Josh Davies, the CEO of the CWED, was a recent guest on the podcast of the Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWD) at Pasadena City College (PCC) (listen here).  He also spoke at the recent Future of Work Conference (watch it here.) He asserts that training a workforce in both hard and soft skills gives American businesses the best opportunity to:

bridge the current ‘skills gap’ (where there are jobs available but no skilled workers to fill them), 

provide more and better occupational opportunities, and 

drive the economy forward. 

Building these skills will be especially significant as vaccines reduce the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and more businesses open their doors. 


As that pandemic recedes, more companies will be reopening and looking for ways to rebuild their market share. Statistics demonstrate that those organizations that invest in improved corporate ethics – from the C-Suite to the maintenance staff – stand the best chance of not just surviving the pandemic but thriving in the new economy that emerges in its aftermath. 


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