ResPublica, a think-tank in London, is the latest to call for requiring those in the financial services industry to affirm a “Banker’s Oath.” Although the idea is mocked and satirized by some, it has merit with wider potential for other industries.
Let’s face it – in many cases getting your team to annually and actually read your organization’s compliance manual, code of conduct, and understand the conflict of interest policy can require persistence and lots of it. And just because team members went through the motions of signing an acknowledgement form whether online or on an in-service handout doesn’t suggest they carefully read and reflected on the meaning and importance of the material.
Hence, is an annual oath for at least board members and senior staffers so silly after all?
Organizations have effectively used “values statements,” a short list of key words or phrases that can be worked into the life of the business or non-profit on a daily basis. They’re often posted in different places. They succinctly embody core principles and are readily understandable no matter a person’s positon or education. Yet they are different from taking an annual oath.
Dutch finance professionals are now required to take an oath based on eight principles. The idea isn’t unique to the Dutch, but they appear to be the first to transform concept to reality.
Inspired by what the Dutch are using, here’s one possible boilerplate oath that can be tailored to your for- or non-profit organization.
“I declare and promise to:
- Use resources wisely;
- Uphold and promote the organization’s values and mission statement;
- Never use confidential information that may harm customers or the organization;
- Promote truth, integrity, and transparency in the organization and within my profession;
- Fulfill my duties with fairness, honesty, good faith, and respect toward customers and co-workers;
- Maintain the confidentiality of customers and the organization unless there is illegal activity which I will report;
- Never violate the trust or confidence customers have placed in the organization for its services or products;
- Strive to go above and beyond the expectations of the law and regulations and strive to act on behalf of customers and the organization in an ethical manner; and
- Perform my duties with honor, character, and integrity knowing that my failure to do so can reflect poorly on me and the organization, and most important bring harm and shame to my family if it were reported by the media.
This I declare and promise. My failure to uphold this oath may result in my immediate termination and loss of any severance package.”
An oath makes ethics more tangible and requires an employee to have a personal stake in an organization while holding him or her accountable in a more intimate way. An individual’s wrongful behavior, as one example, could bring shame to their family. Highlight it. In addition, something personalized makes it more difficult to hide behind the proverbial corporate veil when ethics, integrity, and doing what’s right is thrown to the wind.
Are oaths the solution to the inevitable challenges of getting people to do the right thing? Are they another item on a list to check for the sake of it? Do they reflect more paper shuffling? More bureaucracy? Time will tell, but they may be worth a try.
As indicated by surveys, there is a lot of work to do in furthering ethics in the workplace. As this column tries to underscore in each issue, ethics is about people first and foremost and their individual behaviors, not policies. Ethics must not be abstract, but given a human face with real flesh and blood consequences.
Paul P. Jesep, JD, MPS, MA is the author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”. He is an attorney and corporate chaplain consulting on ethics, compliance, and inner wellbeing for professionals. Reach him at PJesep@gmail.com