How to Recruit and Retain Ethical Employees

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A few months ago, Wells Fargo suspended two senior employees over accusations they colluded with housing developers to lower the price for bids on low-income housing tax credits, a move that ultimately increased the bank’s profit margins. This news deals another blow to a company still cleaning up its image after its recent fraudulent accounts scandal, and it also highlights the crucial importance of hiring ethical employees.

When it comes to making the right hire, integrity can be more valuable than hard skills or previous experience. Staffing an organization with ethical employees will reduce rates of fraud, prevent discrimination and harassment, increase customer satisfaction, and build the company’s positive reputation. In my experience, when times get tough or work is more challenging than usual, the ethical employee tends to work harder and persevere instead of making morally questionable decisions under pressure.

So, how do you find these candidates? Follow these steps:

1. Make Ethics Part of Your Message

Make ethics part of your overall company strategy and marketing messaging. Build a reputation for integrity by sharing examples of ethics in action within your company. Don’t stop at the optics. For example, after a deadly shooting at a Waffle House outside Nashville, Tennessee, the restaurant chain announced plans to create a permanent memorial nearby and donated 100 percent of its sales to the victims’ families for a month after reopening.

Define ethical behavior for your employees, and make expectations clear throughout your organization. When you come across employees doing good things for others, share those stories. Consider nominating employees for awards, highlighting them on social media, or writing posts about them on your company’s blog. That way, prospective candidates will know you value integrity.

2. Practice Accountability

To maintain accountability, you need to ensure employees have ways to report unethical behavior, and that your organization takes those reports seriously. To that end, provide a safe, anonymous channel for employees to report ethics violations, such as an employee hotline or an anonymous document. Investigate every report, and be sure to hold C-suite execs to the same standards as any other employee. If employees see executives getting away with bad behavior, the good employees may leave and the less ethical ones may try to see what they can get away with.

3. Look for Ethics Training on Resumes

Look for candidates who have ethical leadership certifications or otherwise show clear commitments to workplace ethics. For example, Beta Gamma Sigma partners with NASBA Center for the Public Trust to provide its members with education and training in ethical leadership.

It is also a good sign when a candidate has a history at one or more of the world’s most ethical companies, as ranked by Ethisphere. Ask candidates about their experiences at these companies and how those experiences have influenced their careers. People who have worked in ethical environments tend to be more committed to integrity, and they will bring ethical best practices to their new organizations.

4. Incorporate Ethics and Integrity Into Your Hiring Process

Determine the specific attitudes, values, and attributes you’re looking for in employees, and keep looking until you find them. When you have promising candidates, involve some of your best employees as interviewers. They will want colleagues who share their beliefs and will be able to help you determine whether or not a certain prospect holds the same values.

During the interview process, ask candidates questions that help reveal their character. Ask candidates to respond to hypothetical scenarios to gain insight into how they would behave when faced with ethical challenges. Inquire about previous experiences as well — e.g., “Did you ever have a boss who asked you to do something that made you uncomfortable? How did you handle it?”

Above all, don’t waver from your commitment to hiring ethical employees. Be specific about what ethical behavior looks like, and keep looking until you find candidates who fit the bill. Integrity is neither a top-down nor a bottom-up proposition; every single employee contributes to a company’s ethical profile. Your responsibility in human resources is to recruit and retain the people who will act with integrity, even when no one else is watching.

Chris Carosella is the CEO at Beta Gamma Sigma.

Read more in Workplace Ethics

Chris Carosella is the CEO at Beta Gamma Sigma, the premier international business honor society recognizing the academic achievements of the top 10 percent of students at the top 5 percent of business schools around the world (AACSB-accredited). With experience across multiple industries as a corporate senior executive, entrepreneur, and nonprofit CEO, Chris has benefited a variety of businesses and organizations throughout every stage of growth.