Abiding by ethics at work is vital when it comes to creating a strong team, and employees who don’t value ethics on the job don’t value the mission of the company. Often, the pressure to sell and live up to unreasonable standards leads employees to engage in conduct misaligned with company values.
Once upon a time, the customer always came first. Businesses need to return to focusing on customer needs over making quotas – quality over quantity. Many employers like to think employee ethics are straightforward and common sense, but tricky situations and pressures can arise. That’s why it’s important to address ethics during training.
When Ethics Are Thrown Out
At Cox Communications, certain salespeople kept a “little black book” of customer Social Security numbers and added services to accounts that customers never authorized just to make their quotas and receive commission checks with bonuses that amount typically reached or surpassed $12,000. Making these unauthorized add-ons is called bill cramming, and in particular cases, salespeople created entirely new accounts with collected customer information.
Bill cramming works due to the amount of information representatives obtain and their knowledge of the right time to use it, especially when customers move. Representatives may create multiple accounts with a residence based at various apartments but list the account under one customer who previously lived in the same building in a different unit.
The whistleblowing Cox Communication employee described an example where a representative might sell a customer cable with internet and add phone to the service list. That transaction counts as threes sales. If that customer “moves” four more times, it generates 12 sales on paper. At 10 times, that creates 120 sales, meeting 90 percent of the rep’s quota.
Cox Communications isn’t alone in taking the heat with such unethical accusations. AT&T, T-Mobile and Wells Fargo have faced similar accusations of unscrupulous sales. Store managers and bank employees face pressure from the corporate office to meet their sales targets, and reps find ways to meet those goals unethically. Not only does this behavior affect culture, but it also negatively impacts the long-term success of a company.
Cox Communications issued a statement that it has “stringent ethical and privacy standards” that employees are required to abide by and that failure to do so can result in immediate termination if a company investigation finds them at fault.
Why and How to Include Ethics in Training
Individuals, societies and organizations all abide by behavioral standards known as ethics, without which random variables make it difficult to judge what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual considerations also come into play. For example, a person’s ethical standards are typically formed and cultivated by family, friends, religious beliefs and societal practices, which help to define the boundaries of behavior termed acceptable within daily operations.
The internet has increased customer demand for companies to be more transparent about what data they collect and how they use them. Though customers may feel frustrated about answering and confirming security measures, their information is supposed to be safer because of these measures. When sacred trust is breached by individuals within a corporation, the door is left open to lawsuits and further misappropriation and violation of customer data and trust.
Companies must include ethics in training from the start, and they cannot assume employees know the ins and outs of what’s right and wrong in any given situation based on their personal standards of conduct. The fact is that we often require additional input, consideration and assistance to come to the most appropriate decision, especially at work. Employees must feel they can come to superiors and access resources when they are stuck.
The internal ethical battles faced by employees affect them morally, physiologically and emotionally. Unfortunately, many training programs do not discuss the weight of these struggles. When a company’s culture prioritizes winning, it can override sensible and ethical decision-making. More individuals are likely to bend the rules, policies and laws to gain an advantage.
Training must enable employees to become whistleblowers because of the cost to the individual and the organization. For 30 years, the False Claims Act has protected whistleblowers from retaliation and empowered them to act when they witness fraud. Organizations should make employees aware of this law and the fact that they will be protected when they do the right thing.
Training should also guide employees more deeply through the organization’s mission statement and the circumstances that may arise during daily operations. Walk learners through company best practices for these tough situations, and allow them to listen to calls and practice various pathways to deal with these moral circumstances. Provide internal and external resources so the employee knows where to go for support as well as the best questions to ask.
All parties must be responsible and accountable for their behavior, and unethical choices can’t be rationalized or justified by another’s actions. Employees must understand the implications of their decisions but feel supported and empowered to do the right thing as defined by the company. Employee and employer morals must align.
When employees are better prepared for internal impact, external factors are managed with more confidence and unified action, mitigating possible negative external consequences. In the end, trust deepens for customers, employees and employers, and all emerge better served.