What are ethics? According to one common definition, they are “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” In this light, we can understand ethics to be a way of governing yourself properly.

To be ethical, then, you need to be mindful of how you conduct yourself at all times. That leads me to another common definition of ethics: “the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.” In other words, ethics is about knowing how to treat others the way you want to be treated.

Both of these interrelated definitions are important for recruiters and HR professionals to keep in mind as they go about their jobs.

‘Ethical Recruiting’ Is More Than a Catchphrase

While there is a little overlap between the roles of recruiters and HR pros, their responsibilities do differ in important ways. For the recruiter, the job ends when a candidate is hired, whereas the HR professional continues to help manage the relationship between the employee and the hiring manager on a long-term basis.

However, both recruiters and HR pros are in the business of dealing with people — and therefore, ethics are crucially important to their success.

When you are recruiting a candidate for a position, it is important to represent the company in a positive light. Your interactions with the candidate should make them feel welcome and valued. In other words, your actions need to be ethical.

You do not, for example, want a candidate coming in for an interview and hearing their potential colleagues — or even the hiring manager — talking about other employees or clients behind their backs. This will leave a very bad impression on the candidate, and they won’t want to work for the company. That’s a situation where a more ethical office environment would have made hiring more successful.

Much like the candidates themselves, candidate and company information must also be managed in an ethical manner. A recruiter has a duty to keep information confidential, for the benefit of both the company and the potential hire. Being careless with information is not only an abuse of the trust people have put in you, but it can also cause real harm to companies or candidates, depending on what is leaked.

Since HR pros interact with candidates long after they are hired, it’s important to understand how HR ethics extend far beyond the recruiting process. Ethics in HR also means helping the organization uphold its core values at all levels in order to maintain a positive, healthy, trusting culture for all. Remember: A code of company ethics is not just a document. It has a real purpose: It is meant to promote consistent behavior across an organization. The code helps to govern the actions of and relationships between employees, candidates, employers, recruiters, and hiring managers.

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Of course, as an employer, you would also want to know if the candidate you hire will be ethical in the office. You want to hire someone who will mesh well with everyone else at your company, someone who has respect for others, and someone who is trustworthy enough to do their job without supervision. You certainly don’t want someone who will share confidential information or documents without observing proper security protocols.

What I hope this shows is that “ethical recruiting” is not just a catchphrase — it is way more complex than that. Ethical behavior is essential for recruiting and hiring success. In fact, it is essential to overall business success.

Life Lesson: What Happens When Ethics Are Absent?

To further drive the point home, I’d like to share a real-life example of what happens when people behave in unethical ways at work.

At a company I worked with, the CEO had an affair with an employee. As a result, the CEO was demoted to COO, and the employee was terminated due to the “conflict of interest.” Shockingly, the COO — who was not involved in the ordeal — was demoted to finance controller to give the CEO her old position. As you might expect, this threw the office into turmoil, and many employees decided to leave because of what happened.

This is truly unethical behavior, and it has no place in the workplace (even though we know this, unfortunately, happens all the time). The truly ethical response to such egregious behavior would have been to terminate the CEO along with the employee. By failing to do so, the company invited the disarray that followed. Is it any surprise that the former COO turned in her resignation and others began to follow?

The lesson we should take away from this is that ethics matter at every stage of the employee life cycle: during recruiting, during hiring, and during the employee’s entire tenure. Unethical behavior can do more than just make it harder to hire: It can put an entire company in jeopardy.

No workplace should have a culture where people feel they have to walk on eggshells or watch their backs. An employee should be able to go into their place of employment, do their job, and go home feeling a sense of satisfaction. That kind of culture helps you attract — and retain — the best talent around.

Dr. Kanya D. Hubbard is owner and operator of Dee Jones, Inc.

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