Ethics in HR – The role of accountability

Written by
Changeboard team

Published
08 Aug 2019

08 Aug 2019 • by Changeboard team

Ethics in HR means helping an organisation embed and uphold its values at all levels in order to maintain and increase trust. Accountability, or taking responsibility, plays a key part.

What is accountability at work?

Accountability in the workplace means taking responsibility for your actions and your decisions as an individual and an organisation. Accountability is one of the pillars of a healthy and flourishing work culture.

If an organisation only starts thinking about who should take responsibility when something goes wrong, it’s already too late. Accountability is best considered long before damage limitation protocols are set into motion, and long before an organisation gets negative press and has to think about hiring reputation management consultants.

Accountability should part of a daily routine on an individual and organisational level, leading to ethical decision making that reduces the risk of things going wrong in the first place.

The benefits of accountability as a strategy

Work culture with accountability as part of its core practice can result in:

  • Increased transparency – internally, B2B and B2C
  • Increased trust – internally, B2B and B2C
  • Increased communication and teamwork
  • Increased critical thinking in decision making
  • Quicker, more effective and more ethically sound damage mitigation if things do go wrong.

What does accountability mean when applied to ethics in HR?

In any organisation, accountability is founded on trust, and that’s where the ethical nature of accountability kicks in.

The ethics of decision making are numerous and nuanced, but a good business decision is one that is both effective and ethical, because it values the people affected by a decision and therefore deepens consumer/ employee trust in the organisation’s actions, motives, and expertise.

People are an organisation’s most valuable resource. They need to feel valued in order to develop their talents, increase their productivity and choose to remain in an organisation. Ethics in HR ensures that with structures like L&D and retention efforts in place, an organisation will meet its employees’ expectations.

Organisations don’t want a corporate scandal on their hands. It’s an HR professional’s responsibility to maintain ethical integrity when supporting leaders with any business decisions that affect people.

One of the most useful ways to embed ethical practice in organisational culture from the ground up is to promote and embrace accountability.

How can HR professionals increase accountability in an organisation?

If someone in the organisation seeks a new member for their team or department, they come to HR.

If a candidate applies for a job, they go through HR.

If a candidate leaves the organisation, their departure is handled by HR.

HR is responsible for the movement of anyone entering or leaving an organisation. The following tips will help HR professionals align their role to ethical practice, ensuring that decisions made place value on the people moving into or through the organisation and honour their integral human rights.

  • Keep your promises and commitments to people in the organisation
  • Be deeply familiar with an organisation’s ideals and values, so that any hiring is made in the knowledge that a new hire can live up to those ideals.
  • Continuously evaluate your organisation’s culture with an impartial, critical eye. Are company values inherent in decisions and behaviour?
  • Have a competency framework that clarifies behaviour requirements, values and rewards with regards to specific roles.
  • Be prepared to work with the CEO to outline and embed solutions to protect organisational values.
  • Champion accountability at all levels of the organisation, so that individuals understand from day one that they are accountable for their actions and responsible for reflecting organisational values in everything they do.
  • Encourage a focus on being accountable for outcomes and results, not just behaviours.
  • Foster a company-wide understanding that accountability is a positive measure, not aligned to punishment. It is a process designed to increase mutual trust and pride in the value of one’s work and personal/professional development.

There’s far more to HR than hiring and administration. It’s also HR’s role to examine organisational culture with an eye to the ethical treatment of its people.

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