What is Treating Employees with Respect Worth?

By Art Weiss, Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer at TAMKO Building Products in Joplin, Missouri.

Treating employees with respect and dignity is, or should be, a basic element of any compliance and ethics program. Organizations that don’t are likely to need to deal with many more violations of their code of conduct, allegations of theft, harassment claims, employees pushing the boundaries of legality, and less than ethical behavior. The “tone at the top” in my organization is one of treating all persons with whom we come in contact with respect and dignity. That is a basic part of our philosophy of 100% compliance, 100% of the time, minimum.

Other organizations aren’t so lucky. For example, I have spoken with many compliance professionals who are struggling to make a convincing argument to obtain adequate funding to run their compliance and ethics programs. To those who have such a problem, I often have to tell them that they have a cultural problem in their organization. If you have to “sell” your program, you have a tough task ahead. If your organization has the right tone at the top, you don’t need to sell your program, because your management is living it.

Changing culture is a topic for another day; one which would likely take an entire issue of this magazine to address. For organizations in need of a culture change, one of the few tools the compliance professional has left is to convince those controlling the purse strings that there is a good business case for compliance. I want to share with you some thoughts I saw in a column I read in the April 29, 2013 issue of USA Today. I don’t know, nor have I ever met the author, Steve Strauss, but his message may be helpful to those in a culturally challenged organization.

Strauss received a question from someone who ran a business. This “boss” said he had neither the time nor the inclination to be all warm and fuzzy with his employees. He felt he paid them fairly and that they should just do their job. Strauss started by saying how relieved he was that he didn’t work for this boss. I agree with Strauss 100% when he says the kind of boss someone is depends on their personality, values, business, and vision. There’s that word — “values.” Values form a large part of an organization’s culture.

Strauss is correct when he points out that happy business owners equal happy employees which equal happy customers. There’s your business case. The return on investment for your compliance program is found when Strauss speaks of the benefits of being a good person; reducing turnover, reducing training time and costs, increasing morale, and increasing sales.

What I took away from Strauss’ article is that values and profit are related. The higher the values, the higher the profit. How’s that for a business case?