Business focus not in conflict with ethical HR, says ethics specialist

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An increased need to focus on financial returns need not conflict with HR's ethical responsibilities, the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) director Philippa Foster Back has said.

The IBE this week released a report that shows 77% of employees want a closer working relationship between HR and business ethics departments, where both exist in an organisation.   

The paper, The Collaboration between the Ethics Function and HR, also suggests HR having a good knowledge of a company's ethical and corporate responsibilities, and that this is implemented in the recruitment process. It says that as HR is often the first contact candidate's have with a business, it is crucial HR employees know how to give a good first impression. 

"The ethics function can inform HR about how the company approaches its corporate responsibility and ethical commitments so they are able to effectively answer interviewee’s questions," the report says. 

Foster Back told HR magazine the pressure on HR departments to drive business results is not a barrier to taking an ethical approach, and that ethics can deliver its own metrics.

"Mainly you're looking at indicators," she said. "If instances of bullying and harassment, for example, go down, this is an indicator that the approach is working."

Foster Back added that if employees trust the organisation, asking specific questions in employee surveys can be an effective way of measuring managers' ethical behaviour. 

For smaller companies, who may not have specific HR or ethics departments, Foster Back said the ethical direction must come from "the entrepreneur who set up the business".

"In these companies, as is the case even in larger corporates, acting ethically is everybody's responsibility, not just HR's," she said. 

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