Ethics & Character Are Critical Competencies That Employers Can’t Afford To Overlook

If ever there was a time to be talking about character and ethics then it’s now in the wake of the January 6th attack on the US Capitol.  That event, and the entirety of Trump’s presidency, have illustrated why integrity and character are more than just nice-to-have’s.

Most people know this old joke:

How do you know when a politician is lying?
Answer: When their lips are moving.

It’s old because it can be traced back to almost 2000 years BC in ancient Samaria.  Politicians with broken moral compasses aren’t anything new, and neither are untrustworthy employees.  Trustworthiness is critical to every level of human interaction whether be it in marriage, in business dealings or when you loan the family car to your teenager.

Everyone lies but…


Thousands of studies have been done on lying and the reasons for it.  Google returns over 36 million results if you search for “statistics on ethics in the workplace” and another 37 million if you replace ‘ethics’ with ‘character’.  The fact is, we all lie and we do it for all kinds of reasons but there’s a big difference between lying for self-preservation when someone asks “Do these jeans make me look fat?” and the kinds of lies told by the likes of Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Epstein or Donald Trump.

If you knew in advance that your fiancé was going to empty your bank accounts and skip town in the middle of the night or sleep with anyone who came along, you certainly wouldn’t marry them!  When trust is broken it’s often impossible to regain it.  Being labelled a liar or a cheat is a stain on one’s character that’s difficult to remove.  Forgiveness may be the ‘Christian’ thing to do but only a fool forgives and then trusts in that person again.

Despite lofty Values Statements, many employers pay much less attention to the character and ethical nature of their employees than they should.  Every year organizations ‘marry’ employees who lack ethics, character and morals.  America ‘hired’ Donald Trump and has paid a heavy price for doing so.

Hiring the ‘ethically-challenged’ costs you, big time…


The disasters that can result from hiring unethical people range from minor to catastrophic.

Instances of delivery drivers who throw packages onto customers’ porches (or who steal them) are upsetting and embarrassing but easy to correct.  The horror-floor experience of Barings Bank in the UK isn’t quite so easy to put right.  In 1995 Nick Leeson single-handedly brought about the collapse of the 233-year-old institution along with losses of £1.6 billion via fraudulent investments.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it can’t happen to you or that you’re too smart to hire the ethically compromised.  Just last month a 40 year old Sudbury Ontario daycare employee was arrested on fraud charges.  Cindy-Lee Boyd is accused of accepting funds owed to the daycare and fraudulently moving them to personal accounts – to the tune of about $130,000.  No one is immune.

This year, the Ethics & Compliance Initiative conducted the Global Business Ethics Survey® (the first of its kind).  It surveyed 18,000 employees in 18 countries and 5 global regions. The results are revealing.

  • Globally, more than 1 in 5 employees feel pressure to compromise their organization’s ethics standards, policies or the law.
  • When employees perceive that leaders are committed to organizational values and ethical leadership, the tone is set for all employees to follow.
  • Employees with weak leader commitment to organizational values and ethical leadership were 3 times more likely to behave unethically compared to those with strong leader commitment to ethics.
  • Top management is twice as likely to break the rules as are individual contributors.

The survey says that organizations wishing to avoid (or at least mitigate) these kinds of problems must “build a strong ethical foundation and ensure that all employees are committed to adhering to it.”  That, of course, is easier said than done.  It requires focus, commitment, dedication and a consistent, repetition of the organization’s values.  More than anything, it only succeeds when there are meaningful consequences for transgressors.

Avoid problems by screening out bad apples.


Another way to protect yourself from the Nick Leeson’s of the world is to avoid hiring them in the first place!  Although that might seem obvious most companies don’t bother to check if applicants are ethical or consider what kinds of characters they have.  That’s a mistake that actually is easy to address.

No one likes a liar, a cheat or some who’s not trustworthy – so why risk hiring one?  There are all kinds of reliable, accurate and proven assessment tools available to help companies vet their applicants for ‘fit’ within the organization and to gauge their integrity.  Don’t stop half-way!  Testing people for great customer service, accounting or millwrighting skills won’t tell you if they will follow rules, show up on time, take bogus sick days or steal from you.  Most employers don’t know they have a problem until they hear the handcuffs click.

Avoid the ‘click’ with scientifically reliable screening tools.

Nothing is 100% effective but if you’re not looking in the first place then you’re not catching any of the ethically bent people whose resumes fill your inbox.  The Department of Labor found that bad hires and turnover can cost a company 30 percent of its annual earnings.

Just imagine if a $40 screening assessment could cut that figure in half and save you from a $130,000 embezzlement as well?

If you’re interested in learning more about assessments and how they can help you personally or aid you in hiring, promoting or developing employees, please contact us.  Creative Organizational Design offers 100s of assessments for all kinds of applications.  We’d be happy to learn more about your needs and help you find the right solutions.


David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to




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