Your ethical business practices affect more than just your small business. Violations of the public trust create a poor climate for all businesses and can bring down local, regional and even national economies. Your primary defense against unethical practices among your employees, managers and even yourself is ethical awareness in the workplace. All of your business activities, from the stockroom to the boardroom, have ethical implications. Promoting ethical awareness requires company-wide initiatives.

Community Responsibilities

Your business has a place in the community, whether that is a literal community around your premises or a virtual community of customers and other businesses like yours. Create awareness among your workforce of the importance of having a positive reputation in your community. At company-wide meetings, you can discuss your company’s standing in the community and the importance of each employee’s contributions to that standing. For example, if you operate a tire store, emphasize the importance of removing old tires from the back of the store and recycling them properly.

Conflicts of Interest

Make your employees aware of the pitfalls of conflicts of interest, whether those conflicts involve an exchange of money or an exchange of favors. Business is about selling products or services to customers who value them. If vendors, supervisors or owners favor a product, course of action or employee because of an outside interest, your business no longer values honesty. Make your workforce aware of your distrust of conflicts of interest, and encourage the reporting of such conflicts.

Employment Practices

You should have written guidelines that state the ethics of your employment practices. Not only does the law prohibit prejudicial hiring and promotions, but such practices also destroy the trust of your employees. Review your guidelines periodically and reiterate them in meetings, emails and bulletin board postings so that you foster awareness of fair employment practices.


You should promote honesty between your employees and your customers. This includes your sales staff, which should never make false promises or inflated claims. In addition, demand honesty from employees on everything from reporting hours to handling stock and financial transactions. Your own honesty and transparency will foster awareness of the importance of honesty.

Property Rights

You can promote ethical awareness by writing detailed policies regarding property rights. These policies should not only cover your expectations for the treatment of company property such as the premises and inventory, but also the respect you show toward personal property of employees.

The Law

Some ethical awareness comes from a knowledge of the law. Publish guidelines on bribery, discrimination and fraud, along with the legal consequences for such behavior. These guidelines are vital in the event that en employee engages in illegal activity, because you need to be able to document the fact that you neither endorse nor encourage such activity.