Businesses can take a few simple steps to create an environment where employees feel more comfortable raising critical ethics concerns.

open file cabinet drawer with an open file marked with an exclamation point
What do your employees know that you don’t?

Every businessperson would like to believe that their employees would readily approach them with any ethics concerns in the workplace. But the reality is that many ethics concerns go unreported until it’s too late. To flag ethics concerns early, here are a few specific steps that businesses can take to ensure that employees feel safe coming forward with issues or concerns.

1. Emphasize having a “speak up” culture

Many problems can be avoided if employees are encouraged to bring concerns forward early, preferably before potential violations occur. Emphasize that in terms of ethical concerns, the adage that “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” is decidedly not the right attitude.

2. Articulate a non-retaliation policy

Employees will be significantly more likely to report concerns if they can do so with confidence that they will not be punished for doing so, particularly if the concerns relate to their own team or supervisor.

3. Provide an avenue for anonymous reporting

Even with a robust non-retaliation policy, some employees may feel more comfortable raising concerns anonymously. They should have an avenue, such as a mailbox or hotline, for doing so.

4. Laud employees who do speak up

Although it may not be possible or appropriate in all cases, when an employee does raise a valid concern, be sure to praise them in private and if possible to other employees as well.

5. Listen up and follow up

The most important way to encourage employees to raise concerns is simply to take seriously those concerns that are raised. Be sure that those who raise a complaint know you have dealt with it, and always follow up with them about the situation. When doing so, be sure to ask whether they have since experienced any retaliation.

Raising ethics concerns, particularly those concerning coworkers or supervisors, is one of the most difficult decisions employees can encounter on the job. But having an environment where employees can do so, without fear, is critical to operating as an ethical company. By following these guidelines, you’ll ensure that your company creates an environment where employees feel encouraged and empowered to speak up.

Stacey Supina, Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas