My mother enrolled me in Girl Scout Daisies when I was six. It’s an all-girl organization that seeks to help out the community and give back to those less fortunate, and is basically the precursor to becoming a Girl Scout Cadet. One of the first things I remember as part of the initiation process was having to take a Scout Oath – yes, even at the age of six, I had to promise to always be loyal, courteous, kind to others and to always try and help those less fortunate than I was. Every Boy Scout or Girl Scout took the oath in order to solidify his or her membership. The oath was a promise to make ethical and moral choices; by having us recite the oath, the Scouts were instilling in us the values of the Scout organization.
Fast forward 18 years, and I stumbled across an article about the banking industry in Britain. Following recent scandal allegations, Britain’s banks are starting to see an importance in a banker’s oath, and are thinking about implementing an ethics oath for new employees. The bank’s goal is that the oath will hold employees accountable to a common set of ethical practices within the organization. Employees are expected to swear to their manager that they will behave morally and ethically.
This got me thinking, is an oath really enough? Is taking an oath the best indicator to a manager that employees will do what is right? I cannot help but think that if you tell those 20-something college graduates that they are going to have to swear to behave ethically upon starting a new job, they may not take it so seriously. How many college students have you known that have SWORN they wouldn’t party too hard or drink too much, only to do precisely that?
Furthermore, how can you ensure employees even know HOW to behave ethically in the workplace? The bottom line is, simply taking an oath isn’t enough. That action must be supported by ethics and compliance training.
Bankers Walking the Ethical Tightrope Swear to an Oath
BBC News published a report a week ago touching base on this new method of ensuring employees will uphold ethical standards. Bank employees must swear upon the oath before they can start working, with the goal of raising accountability within the organization as well as increasing the ethical standards in the banking industry overall. ResPublica, an independent nonpartisan organization in London, says that introducing this oath could ensure banks treat struggling firms and consumers fairly, claiming,
“Britain’s bankers lack a sense of ethos and the institutions they work for lack a clearly defined social purpose.”
You can read the full ResPublica report here.
UK banks have been in the scandal hot seat the past few years, resulting in a lack of public trust that’s a huge concern for both the industry and the government. The Libor scandal was one of the most memorable incidents which revealed big international banks, Barclays for example, manipulating LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) interest rates to fraudulently boost their profits.
Another scandal occurred when Lloyds Banking Group was hit with a record €28M fine for putting their employees under intense pressure to sell products customers did not want, or face having their pay halved. See the video here for a three-minute overview of the Lloyds scandal.
Apparently Lloyds failed to learn its lesson the first time because recently, the organization has racked up yet another €1B fine for mis-selling to customers. These scandals amongst numerous others, it would only make sense that banks try to improve compliance with laws and regulations. The hope is that the oath will raise accountability within the organization and eventually repair trust with the public.
As I continued doing more research, I realized the ethics oath bug is catching on. According to Bloomberg, Dutch bank employees will have to swear to an oath promising they will perform their duties with integrity starting this year.
The oath is a way for companies to reassure the public that they are doing everything they can to stamp out unethical behavior. In medicine, we have doctors who have swear to uphold the Hippocratic Oath, so why not take this method of compliance and apply it to the banking industry?
Beyond the Oath: Ethics & Compliance Training
However, the oath is just a small step in changing an organization’s culture entirely. While it is the first defense against unethical behavior, what employees really need is an effective ethics and compliance training program to support it. Like I mentioned before, employees may attest that they will behave morally, but do they know how to, especially in situations that hinge on an ethical tightrope or venture into gray areas? A robust ethics and compliance training program allows an employer to spell out scenarios his employees may face, and guide them through the appropriate resolution.
Employees may swear they will behave morally, but do they know how to act situations that venture into gray areas?
It‘s about educating your employees first, before making them swear to something they may not understand or ultimately be able to uphold without further insight. What makes our ethics and compliance training program so effective is that it provides individuals with interactive exercises and engaging activities, so people retain and apply the information. Don’t make your employees swear to an oath without training them on the fundamentals first.