Ethics and Flex Work
By Madison Hanscom PhD
As more individuals are working from home than ever, this raises interesting questions and important considerations regarding ethics. When working remotely, there are more circumstances in which employees and leaders alike operate under little surveillance. There are several ethical perspectives that should be considered in a flexible work environment. Two important ones are the ethics involved with employee work and the ethical situations leaders might encounter.
Employees Performing Work Duties
When employees are performing their work from home, it is important to remember that regulations and contracts with employers should still be upheld. Some of these expectations are clearly communicated by upper leadership. For instance, the process in which an employee should bill hours is usually clearly discussed during onboarding. For anything else where there might be a grey area - it is important for employees to reach out to employers to get clear, documented instructions for how to operate ethically in a work environment outside of the office.
An example of this might be workplace technology. Many individuals are loaned laptops from employers when they work from home, and if employees are uncertain about boundaries with equipment, it must be communicated. For instance, should they avoid engaging in any personal activities of any kind on the computer, or is that permitted? It will likely depend on an individual’s role and need for confidentiality, but it is necessary to think of these details early before any issues arise.
There are examples in which leaders and employers have not sustained an ethical climate of flexible work. For instance, in 2014 it came to light that the US Patent and Trademark Office had senior leaders overlooking dishonest time keeping in the remote environment, leading to bad publicity and wasted taxpayer money (1).
It is the duty of an employer to define ethical standards for employees. Management should provide clear, documented instructions for employees to work ethically so there is no confusion or question in how to perform accordingly. Another critical duty is for the employer to uphold ethical standards themselves. Leaders role model appropriate behavior for employees, thus it is extremely important that ethics are included in the values and demonstrated consistently. It is up to leaders to walk the talk. They should consider ethics throughout every stage of the telework cycle. Are recruitment practices ethical? Pay and rewards? Performance management? Promotions? Home office equipment? Communication and meetings? Training and development? The amount of overtime employees work? Any treatment compared to resident workers? And so on.
Leaders must also carefully consider the fairness perceptions of their employees because this can lead to conflict and other negative consequences (2). One way to do this is to have standards in place to explain any polarizing decisions related to virtual work (e.g., which jobs have a teleworking component, for how long, why is the pay different or the same, what are the parameters) with transparent and clear documentation as to how these decisions were made.
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help you implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.