by Liezl Groenewald | Published on 25 August 2017 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter
When I started working at The Ethics Institute nine years ago, no one told me that I would be traveling frequently. I thought it was a cushy office job! But since I moved to Cape Town, travelling on a weekly basis became part of my existence. I am not complaining about it, but there are a few things at airports and in planes that never cease to amaze me.
Amazement number one: Let me start with the bus trip to the plane. Have you noticed that everyone boarding the bus wants to be the first to get off? With little exception, people (usually with backpacks, laptop bags and oversized hand luggage) insist on standing in the doorway. The only way to get into the bus is by squeezing past them and bumping them (sometimes not quite by accident) with one’s own oversized hand luggage to find a spot in the ‘passage’.
It seems to me that people just don’t care about others anymore. In the scenario above, I see very little consideration for others. The airport bus has largely become a place where it is all about the individual’s own comfort and needs. Is this a microcosm of our workplaces? In discussions at ethics awareness workshops, it often emerges that employees feel that their employer does not consider their personal circumstances, their specific needs to grow or even their need to socialise with colleagues from different teams. Yes, employee wellness programmes are the order of the day, but these do not replace an empathetic manager, an in-depth discussion about an employee’s plans for his/her future or an informal afternoon get-together with colleagues. Do our work lives encourage us to be considerate, to really see the people around us – or are we all jostling to be first off the bus?
"Unfortunately, it certainly seems that ignoring the rules, as set out in company
policies, is the order of the day."
Amazement number two: As soon as the plane has landed, a crew member announces that passengers must remain seated with their seatbelts fastened until the pilot has switched off the fasten-seatbelt signs, and that cellphones must remain off until the doors have been opened. But what happens without fail? The announcement isn’t even halfway through before passengers jump up and the sound of cellphones greeting their owners fills the aircraft. It is a complete disregard for the rules, and it happens every time.
Is this also what we see happening in the workplace? Unfortunately, it certainly seems that ignoring the rules as set out in company policies is the order of the day. During aforementioned workshops, employees often reveal that they take as many shortcuts as they can get away with to ensure that they reach their targets. Others state blatantly that they do not declare their gifts (especially things like chocolates, invitations to events or something else they really like), do not see the point of asking permission to have another job, and do not declare their private interests (as their private affairs are just that – private).
With one exception, I have never heard a crew member ask passengers again to sit down (after they all so brazenly stand and stretch) or to keep their phones off (after the cacophony of beeps, bells and bong-bongs announces that nobody listened the first time). No enforcement of the rules – only talk. Does this also happen in the workplace? Policies, a Code of Ethics and beautifully framed organisational values – but inconsistent application, enforcement or discipline when rules and values are transgressed? The result of this lack of follow-through is obvious: the flouting of rules continues until it becomes the norm, and people implicitly understand that there are no consequences for wrongdoing. Extrapolated on a broader scale, this state of affairs makes for an extremely bumpy ride for any nation, as we are seeing in South Africa at the moment.
Perhaps organisations should take a step back and reflect earnestly on the value and needs of the human beings who spend most of their days at their workplace. It is often said that ‘our greatest asset is our people’, but are organisations doing enough to show that they genuinely care about their employees? In the same vein, they should also ask what more they can do to ensure that policies are applied consistently and that transgressions are uniformly addressed across all levels. Maybe then, someone will move, listen and care.
Liezl Groenewald is Manager: Organisational Ethics Development at The Ethics Institute. She holds a Master of Applied Ethics for Professionals, which she attained from University of Witwatersrand.