The Code of Ethics Applies To Employers As Well As Candidates

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By MobileWirelessJobs / MobileContentJobs
July 2007

NEW YORK – When a candidate accepts a new position at just about any company in the US, one of the first documents to be executed is typically the company’s code of conduct. This document is meant to clearly define what actions each employee will be held accountable for and the guidelines of “acceptable behavior” according to the employer. It is supposed to provide a comprehensive code of compliance and the possible repercussions that may result if any employee fails to adhere to such policies. In essence, it is a “code of ethics” in which both parties, employer and employee, agree to follow.
Some labor experts will argue that the current turnover rate for most publicly listed US companies is relatively flat, approximately 17% at present, and thus employee satisfaction is relatively strong. They’ll point out that the reasons why most employees leave a job today are typically due to new employment offers, family/health complications, dissatisfaction with roles or responsibilities, or personality conflicts in the workplace. In the case of termination, they’ll often cite a lack of skills or qualifications for the job or evidence of illegal or immoral activities. The latter, they’ll argue is often a case of an employee’s misunderstanding or violation of the company’s code of conduct policies and thus, oftentimes warranted.
However, when one takes a closer look at the behavior, treatment and unrealistic accountability of its terminated employees, US employers are often the party engaging in the unethical labor practices and not the other way around.
Take the case of Cynthia Haddad, the pharmacist from Pittsfield, MA, who was fired in 2004 by Wal-Mart because she left the pharmacy unattended and allowed a technician to use her computer security code to issue prescriptions during her absence. Ms. Haddad argued that the incident occurred 18 months earlier, in 2002, and the real reason for her termination was actually due to her demand for equal compensation as her male counterparts. Her attorneys also asserted that the male pharmacists, at the same position level, often engaged in similar activities during this period but went unpunished. The jury agreed and recently ordered Wal-Mart to pay $2 million in damages to Ms. Haddad. The case is likely to be appealed.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. Let’s assume Ms. Haddad ‘s compensation was fair and rated appropriately to her position level. With all things being equal, was it still ethical for Wal-Mart to permit male pharmacists to engage in such activities without repercussions? Remember, Ms. Haddad was terminated and her male colleagues were not. Was this really just a simple case of sex discrimination? Or was the evidence Ms. Haddad’s attorneys presented ever really discredited? This sounds more like a case of unethical and perhaps uneven enforcement of Wal-Mart’s own code of conduct policies.
This unethical behavior can often be traced back to the sourcing practices of many employers, even in the mobile wireless industry. “I’ve received a phone call recently from a telecom company based in New York who claimed they saw my resume recently on a job board. I had, in fact, updated it recently and was probably listed near the top of available candidates,” admitted Michael Parker, 31, a senior software engineer based in Hoboken, NJ. “But when they started asking me questions, I realized they didn’t really have my resume. All they had was my contact information and resume title. They were being deceptive from the start and then tried to imply that they didn’t really understand what I did. They blamed this on my resume’s format and not on the fact that they didn’t really have the document in front of them. By the end of the conversation, they asked me to send over an updated copy and they would get back in touch with me. I realized then this was not a company I would ever consider working for.”
Aside from some shady pre-screening practices, Employers today will often engage in what many candidates would consider unethical assessment practices. “I was interviewed by the same company about 8 times. From the beginning, I thought they were very arrogant during the process. They were also disingenuous with their assessment questions. The best example I can recall was you’re in a building with 100 floors with 2 eggs. If you threw both eggs out of a window, you were asked to identify the highest floor you could toss the egg out of the window without breaking it. If you threw the egg out of the next highest floor, it was certain to break. Despite answering this riddle correctly (that had little to do with my work), I still wasn’t offered the position,” said Alvin Richards, 42, a senior network analyst from Mountain View, CA. “In the end, they said they were just very picky. What a complete waste of time.”
To add to this madness, some employers will also practice something known as idea generation. They’ll ask candidates to create business models, PowerPoint presentations, sales and marketing plans or perhaps budget analysis that is allegedly a part of their due-diligence process. In reality, they are looking for new and free ideas with no plans of hiring the candidate. Some companies will even go as far as patenting the new ideas.
The fact is employers have certain fiduciary responsibilities during the hiring process. First, there is opportunity cost. If the employer is simply using the candidate for resources, idea generation or to evaluate their own assessment capabilities, then the code of conduct has been violated. The candidate could lose out on other opportunities where the interest was genuine as well as potential income that could have been earned elsewhere during that time. Second, there is mutual respect. Candidates should not be disrespected or belittled at any moment during the evaluation process. If a hiring manager is caught doing so, then the company has an obligation to discipline that individual. Last, there is the evaluation itself. Have too many non-essential personnel evaluated the candidate? How long did the evaluation process take and when did the company reach a hiring decision? Employers should realize that any level of stalling, waiting to hear back from other potential candidates or creating false traveling or scheduling conflicts is unethical.
Regardless of what hiring decision is made, candidates have a right to know where they stand. Too often, employers will conduct face-to-face interviews without ever communicating a response. “I never witnessed this in the 1990s. But ever since 9/11, I’ve been on quite a few interviews and never heard anything back from the employer. I never received a phone call, an email or even a rejection letter, “ says Rebecca Leinhardt, 35, a wireless web designer for UI mobile handsets based in Pomona, CA . “Not only did I feel humiliated and sad, I eventually became spiteful of those companies and spent considerable amount of energy swaying other potential candidates from applying.”
Employers should always use sound judgment during the post-interview period. Even if a candidate alludes to another offer or perhaps seems reluctant to accept their offer, the employer still has an ethical responsibility to communicate its decision in some fashion. Our research has shown that any mistreatment or disrespect of candidates will actually cost employers anywhere between $10,000 to $10,000,000 per year in potential recruiting and advertising expenses. Those same rejected candidates may very well become the targeted consumer of the future in which goodwill would need to be restored. Furthermore, any potential referrals those candidates may offer would also be lost forever.
Once a candidate is hired, the employer has an even greater ethical obligation. Everything from new employee orientation to training to cultural assimilation falls on the employer. It is imperative that new employees are also given clear, yet consistent goals and resources to meet those goals. Anything less is a failure of the company, not the employee, to follow the code of conduct.
Oftentimes, the real culprit in employee turnover is a lack of care or interest in a new employee’s morale or progress by senior management. If senior management fails to survey new employees with direct, yet frank conversation on a periodic basis (and not just during the employee review period), then they could potentially expose such employees to an unhealthy and perhaps unethical work environment. It is senior management’s responsibility to ensure that line managers are not undermining the efforts of new employees. These behaviors can oftentimes take place very covertly and without senior management’s knowledge.
Moreover, it is also senior management’s responsibility to prevent current employees from forming cliques or “brown-nosing” to get ahead of new employees. By definition, to “brown-nose” is to “curry favor with in an obsequious manner; to fawn on. From the image of an obsequious person whose nose becomes soiled in kissing the rump of someone from whom favor is sought.” Any lack of action, or inaction, of senior management to nip such behavior in the bud is not just a poor judgment in human resources but also an exercise in unethical conduct.
In fact, senior management should lay out a clear and concise internal mobility plan that is not in any way contingent on favoritism. Employees should work in a fair and open environment where the code of conduct and the opportunity for advancement is applied equally throughout the organization. Any signs of favoritism will not only further deteriorate the employer’s brand but also prevent new ideas and perspectives from being heard or even encouraged.
Perhaps, then, the current turnover rate of publicly listed companies is misleading. Employees are working longer hours and receiving less in compensation and benefits. Some employers are taking advantage of this situation in which the workforce is vulnerable and morale is rather low. “People work in fear today. It’s simply not enough to do your job and go home. Many employees spend too much of their day engaged in politics, brown-nosing and undermining the work of others. Companies should punish this behavior but instead, they are turning a blind eye,” confirmed Richards. “It’s really a sad state of affairs, if you ask me.”
In sum, a code of conduct is a two-way street. An employer that expects its employees or candidates to be compliant while not meeting those same responsibilities is not only hypocritical but unethical. While the turnover rate of publicly listed companies remains relatively flat, a closer examination of these figures suggests that people have elected to keep their jobs out of fear and not satisfaction. Those employers that continue to engage in a whimsical application of the code of conduct will most likely suffer not only financial losses but also a further deterioration of the employer value proposition. A good reputation in the workplace, for all intents and purposes, is not just a priceless achievement for candidates but for employers as well.
MobileContent Careers is the monthly eNewsletter of MobileWirelessJobs. Each issue contains one or more HR interviews or HR Stories in the mobile content and wireless industries. These article help our candidates learn more about the companies listed and hiring trends trends listed on MobileWirelessJobs beyond what can be found in a job posting. Our research has shown that employers who participate in our HR interview receive a much greater resume response for their time and effort.

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