Workplace Behavior: The Need for Guidelines

Integrity in the Work Place: Part II

Last week after I wrote about the issue of integrity in the work place I received a number of responses from people who read the posting and I want to address the issues they raised in their comments. In examining the issue of integrity there are a number of perspectives and a question was raised about the distinction between “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” behavior in relation to integrity. Specifically I wrote, “What distinguishes disrespectful behavior caused by a lack of integrity from inappropriate behavior is the ability to document the specific actions of a professional or lay leader.”

Without entering into a polemical discussion and the drawing of fine lines to differentiate between the two, I would posit that in the ongoing life of the non-profit organization it is possible to identify and analyze the behavior of professional staff members and volunteer leaders. In doing so a distinction can be drawn between actions that display integrity and those that fail to reflect the highest values non-profit organizations aspire to reflect in their policies and the implementation of their programs.

For example, the way people communicate with each other can often reflect the level of respect they have for each other. The tone of voice and the intonation given to words will often say more than the specific words used, however, this may be more of a reflection of the respect one person has for the other person. However, if the content of the communication is not truthful or is a distortion of what is being discussed then this reflects a lack of integrity. Unfortunately this happens when a supervisor criticizes an employee for something that did not happen or was not the employee’s responsibility. Another example is when a supervisor requests something be done in a specific way and then criticizes the employee for implementing what was requested and refuses to acknowledge it was the supervisor’s suggestion.

At the same time, the employees who are not honest about the way assignments are completed or when they are completed does not demonstrate integrity in the performance of their responsibilities. Integrity applies to all and not to one level of the administrative hierarchy of the organization. It is easy to focus on the upper echelons of organizational structures and hold them accountable to values, but it is everyone’s responsibility to insure the adherence to integrity in the workplace.

To exemplify this I would like to discuss another aspect that was raised by a reader. When she thought about integrity in the work place one of the things that came to her mind was the issue of honesty in regard to the organization’s resources. She wanted to know what should the response be when staff members freely use the agencies equipment for personal use.

Of course, personal use has to be defined. There are times when a contractual agreement between the non-profit organization and the employee includes various forms of compensation beyond a yearly salary. For example, the unrestricted use of the company car, cell phone, telephone at home, and other such benefits. Whether you think these kinds of agreement are overly generous is a separate issue, however, if the employee and the agency reach an agreement on a compensation package then there is nothing wrong with the personal use of the these resources.

Having said this, it should be clear that if there is no prior agreement and the employee uses a company car for personal travel without approval and without reimbursing the organization, this is clearly questionable behavior. The organization should have strict policy guidelines for personal use of the organization’s vehicles and if it does want to allow for such use then it is generally appropriate for there to be a reimbursement rate based on the number of miles (or kilometers) driven. A number of organizations have adopted policies governing the personal use of cars and this includes an approval process as well as appropriate forms to keep track of who uses the car and how far it is driven. This way the agency demonstrates flexibility and the employee reimburses the organization for any expense.

This kind of practice is far more difficult when it comes to use of office telephones at home or cell phones that have been given to employees. To encourage greater transparency and honesty, a number of organizations have provided cell phones to employees and based on monitoring the average usage the employee is given a monthly “budget” of minutes. Any expense up to the monthly budget is paid by the organization and anything over the budget is paid for by the employee. Either the employee has the expense deducted from the next salary payment or the person writes a check to the organization for the difference.

Of course these kinds of issues get even more complicated when we focus on the personal use of copying machines, office supplies, and reimbursement of certain expenses that may not be directly related to the employees’ responsibilities. The problems get really “sticky” when some employees have access and personal use of the organization’s resources and lower level employees see what is happening and do not have the same privileges. There are two separate issues here. One is the lack of ethical guidelines when an employee misuses the organization’s equipment or supplies and the two is the lack of equity in the way employees are treated.

Organizations need to have clear guidelines about the personal use of office equipment and all employees should be expected to adhere to them. The lack of clearly defined expectations for ethical behavior in the work place allows for a growing “gray” area and staff members begin to justify the personal use of the non-profit organization’s limited resources. Integrity in the work place takes on many different forms and as these readers have pointed out the more we seek clarity the more transparent we will be to our staff members, to our donors and to the community.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.