Where Ethics and HR Collide

Last Updated Jul 21, 2008 4:58 PM EDT

HR and EthicsThe great majority of companies can't afford a full-time on-board ethicist to deal with delicate conflicts of interest and other moral dilemmas. Most employees turn to their Human Resources departments.

So a study released this month by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and The Ethics Resource Center is especially interesting. The "Ethics Landscape in American Business" report surveyed some 3,000 SHRM members (all HR pros) to get their takes on such topics as organizational ethics, the role of HR in ethics, the ethical behavior of top management and the pressure to compromise ethical standards.

Among other things, the study found that:

  • 23 percent of respondents said their companies did not offer a comprehensive ethics program
  • 50 percent said they had no means of seeking ethics advice
  • 57 percent said that ethics played no part in employee evaluations
  • 19 percent said that they, as HR professionals, felt pressure to compromise their ethical standards, the pressure coming from all sides: top brass, supervisors and coworkers
Even though:
  • 83 percent said that the HR department was their organization's primary resource for ethics-related information
  • 71 percent said HR was involved in creating their organization's ethics policy
Judging from this survey, when it comes to establishing and upholding a code of ethics it appears that HR pros are really caught in a web of many competing interests -- the company's, managements', employees', the law's and of course their own. Not a happy place. Makes you wonder if making HR responsible for ethics presents an ethical dilemma itself. But if HR can't do it, who can and, moreover, who should?

So, where do you turn for ethics advice within in your company?

(Image courtesy matt.doane, via Flickr, CC, 2.0.)