21 NOVEMBER, 2022


When you come into the office each day, there are certain resources you expect from your workplace that will support you to meet your responsibilities. Depending on your job, this might include a desk, computer, sterile laboratory equipment or a working vehicle. But there is one key workplace quality that every employee requires to succeed, regardless of whether they’re working in an office, hospital or farm: respect.

An ethical working environment helps to ensure that employees are happy and motivated to complete their tasks to the best of their ability. Promoting ethics in the workplace has a diverse range of benefits that impact all levels of business and actively pave the way for long-term success.

What is professional ethics in the workplace?

Professional ethics exist in all areas of business. They determine the way that employees are treated and how they interact with one another, in addition to providing guidance for how an organisation proceeds with both everyday and irregular situations. It encapsulates a business’s values by ensuring that a business’s code of conduct is a lived culture rather than empty words on a paper.

Benefits of an ethical workplace culture

Some of the most notable benefits of promoting ethical behaviour in the workplace include the following.

Improves employee morale and engagement

It is human nature to crave being part of a greater cause. Individuals will feel more committed to their role if they perceive it to be reflective of their morals. In fact, more and more employees are leaving their jobs because they feel their organisation does not align with their personal values.

An ethical workplace culture empowers employees to feel good about the work that they do. It also fosters a friendly and inclusive environment that actively cultivates teamwork, encouraging employees to build genuine connections with one another.

Sets clear standards for decision making by employees and leaders

Within an ethical workplace culture, employees and leaders understand what is required of them. They have a clear guideline for decision-making that ensures company culture is reflected in key decisions. Ultimately, this creates an environment where everyone is governed by the same set of principles.

Mitigates compliance and regulatory risk

A deep understanding of ethics is closely tied to risk management skills. It is easier for employees to meet legal obligations when they are actively supported by a systemic commitment to equality, inclusivity and transparency. While an ethical workplace culture does not automatically mean compliance with laws and regulations is met, it sets the tone for a transparent environment that is dedicated to constantly improving.

Creates positive brand perception

While organisations should not manage ethics for the sole purpose of improving their image, it’s still a key benefit that should be noted. An ethical organisation inevitably attracts positive attention from customers, stakeholders and potential employees, as individuals are drawn to organisations that represent their own values.

Enhances overall organisation performance

An ethical collaborative culture will inevitably enhance the personal and professional lives of employees. By supporting employees to contribute their unique talents and perspectives, an organisation will be able to better manage internal career progression and attract top talent.

Challenges in promoting professional ethics

Philosophers have debated for thousands of years upon the exact definition of ethical behaviour. The abstract nature of ethics means that promoting professional ethics will naturally come with many challenges.

Increased operating costs without return on investment

As a metaphysical concept, it can be difficult to identify let alone promote workplace ethics. The vague definition of ethics makes it substantially more complex to quantify and monitor professional ethics within the workplace. Subsequently, stakeholders and leadership can be reluctant to invest in workplace ethics if there are no definite objectives associated with it.

Considerable time investment

No culture was ever created overnight. Promoting an ethical workplace culture will be a timely process that must be organically implemented with the objective of long-term, sustainable success. It’s important that organisations are not dissuaded by apparent setbacks in their investment in professional ethics.

Overemphasis on ethical goals over other organisational goals

Employees must understand how professional ethics will impact their role and responsibilities. Vague sentiments prioritising ‘honesty’ are significantly less impactful than actionable processes that demand transparency. Developing well-managed policies that require ethical behaviour will help employees meet individual responsibilities in their day-to-day work.

Ethical standards may reduce flexibility

All individuals within an organisation must abide by ethical standards – not just employees. In order to create policies that engender ethical behaviour, leadership may be required to sacrifice a level of autonomy when committing to an ethical code of conduct. While this commitment to ethical standards helps foster equality, it may also impact expectations regarding leading and developing people in the workplace.

Ethical codes may be insufficient to tackle new issues

Ethics are constantly changing and what was considered permissible yesterday may be considered immoral tomorrow. As social values shift and technology advances, new problems will emerge that may require us to re-evaluate our definition of ethical behaviour. But progress cannot happen without change. An organisation that is willing to view their code of ethics as a living document rather than a fixed rulebook will be able to better adapt to changing circumstances.

How to motivate ethical behaviour in the workplace

Change is a gradual but deliberate process that starts at the top. Here are eight strategies for creating an ethical workplace.

Be a visible role model for ethical behaviour

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”


Consistently embodying ethical behaviour is the first step to creating an ethical workplace environment. Prioritising professional ethics in your own work actively sets the tone for an organisation committed to honesty and integrity, which in turn encourages employees to mirror this behaviour.

Emphasise ethical conduct in core organisational values

Ethical conduct cannot exist in isolation from other organisational values. Rather, it must be a defining pillar of your organisation that acts as a moral compass for organisational processes and policies. How this manifests will ultimately depend on your current organisational values and industry expectations.

Include an ethical code in your handbook

Incorporating a clear ethical code in your organisation’s handbook can solidify your employee’s understanding of expectations. This ethical code will act as a point of reference that employees can refer to for guidance.

Integrate ethical expectations into employee accountabilities

Integrating ethical expectations into employee accountabilities ensures everyone is given the necessary tools and information to align their behaviour with broader company values. This is an effective way to institute change and maintain open communication channels.

Create safe channels for discussing ethical issues

Employees should feel empowered to voice concerns and ideas that will support your organisation’s commitment to professional ethics. Creating safe channels for discussing ethical issues may include anonymous feedback or organising regular meetings with employees to talk through ethical concerns.

Recognise and reward ethical conduct

Rewards are a powerful motivator in the workplace. Recognising and rewarding ethical conduct through promotions, financial bonuses or even just repeated positive feedback will inspire others to mimic the rewarded behaviour.

Constantly evaluate ethical code

Constantly evaluating your organisation’s ethical code is a necessary task to ensure that it is up to date with current employee concerns, modern technology, industry best practices and cultural shifts in the workplace.

Offer professional ethics training

Every person has their own unique ethical code that they abide by. This makes it substantially more difficult to align individual values with your organisation’s.  Professional ethics training is a proactive approach to broadening your employees and leaders’ perspective on ethics, ensuring they have the tools to align their own values with your organisation’s ethical code.

Start building an ethical workplace today

Professional ethics is a complex area that helps us reassess our assumptions and look for empathetic and innovative solutions to problems. Whether you have a Masters degree in Philosophy or are new to the concept of ethics, there is still more to learn about its foundational role in the workplace. Ensure that your workplace has the necessary tools and training to promote ethical behaviour by providing staff with the opportunity to gain a DeakinCo. professional ethics credential endorsed by the Australian Council of Professionals.