Moral Voice: Talking About Ethics at Work

6 Pages Posted: 30 May 2017

See all articles by Jared D. Harris

Jared D. Harris

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Megan Hess

Washington and Lee University; University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

There are a number of reasons that individuals find it challenging to engage in discussion about ethics and values in the workplace environment, yet engagement regarding values is critically important for organizations. Effective organizations talk about and enact their values. This note discusses some of the key barriers to exercising “moral voice” in the workplace environment and offers suggestions for individuals and managers regarding how to foster such open discussion and how to minimize moral muteness.

Excerpt

UVA-E-0411

Rev. Jan. 5, 2016

Moral Voice: Talking About Ethics at Work

Organizational learning and functioning depend on the willingness of employees to give voice to their ideas, opinions, and concerns. When expressed constructively, employee voice helps groups learn, make better decisions, and identify and address problems. Yet the default tendency for employees in many organizations is simply to remain silent; speaking up at work is perceived to be risky. High-performing organizations seek to overcome this workplace silence and find ways to encourage and listen to feedback from a diverse range of employees and individuals who might have a tendency to be overlooked or lost—the less powerful, the disenfranchised, and those who due to personality might simply be less inclined to speak up. Employee voice is a vital part of organizational functioning, because the ideas raised by employees can be a valuable source of innovation and a powerful impetus for change.

Employee voice is especially important when it concerns matters of ethics and values, because moral voice highlights opportunities for organizations to better meet the needs of their stakeholders—opportunities that might otherwise fade into the background of a business narrative dominated by immediate competitive pressures. Moral voice is also a powerful deterrent to unethical workplace behavior. For instance, research demonstrates that employee tips are the single most effective mechanism for detecting and deterring corporate misconduct and uncovering more fraudulent behavior than audits, technology controls, and management reviews combined. Finally, moral voice can enhance workers' ability to engage with or question—and therefore better connect with—the purpose and values of an organization. For all of these reasons, ethics and values are among the most important topics for open discussion within organizations.

Despite the many benefits of moral voice for effective organizational functioning, the process of speaking up about ethical matters can be difficult for both employees and their managers. Why is it so difficult to talk about moral issues at work? And why do managers tend to shy away from fostering and engaging in discussions related to ethics and values? Even more importantly, how can leaders overcome these challenges to encourage more effective conversations about ethics in the workplace?

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Keywords: Ethics, business ethics, ethical issues, effective organizations, moral voice, ethics and values in the workplace, communication, leadership, moral muteness

Suggested Citation

Harris, Jared D. and Hess, Megan, Moral Voice: Talking About Ethics at Work. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2974208 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2974208

Jared D. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.darden.virginia.edu/harrisj

Megan Hess

Washington and Lee University ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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