THE BLOG
09/02/2014 02:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do You Deal With an Unethical, Productive Employee


Business can be difficult, but business is business. Sometimes you have to do hard things because it's better for the organization. But deciding what is best for the organization can be a bit fuzzy at times.

Consider, for example, if you have a salesperson that is known for unethical behavior but has brought in more revenue than the rest of the team?

What about the operations manager in a field office who uses bribery to close deals and sign contracts?

What if the procurement officer funnels work to suppliers where there is self-interest but is highly efficient?

Do you terminate these people and lose profits and momentum, or do you try to help them change their behavior? Hiring productive people takes a lot of time and effort.

Deterring Deception

Organizations should promote a culture of ethnics, starting with top management. Unethical behavior puts an organization in legal and criminal risk, as well as making it susceptible to asset and productivity losses.

There are various ways to deter deceptive practices, including the establishment of procedures that require authorizations for more than one person, or expense reports that require valid receipts, and many others. These practices will be mentioned in a future article. The focus of this article is about helping the deceptive employee.

What do to?

Unethical behavior can be difficult to uncover, and careful planning and means may need to be used to identify it. But once identified, organizations need to have a plan ready.

Rarely is it financially worthwhile to let an employee go, unless they are grossly negligent or are significantly underperforming. In most cases, it is better to work with a productive employee to reduce deceptive behavior.

Steps to Reduce Deceptive Behavior

To help individuals prone to deception, a Harvard Business Review article suggests these tips:

  • Engage them> Help the employee feel respected and understand that they have a purpose and value. Alienation and distance lead to antagonistic feelings and behaviors.
  • Improve workplace culture> It's very unlikely for employees to engage in unethical behavior in an environment where employees are valued and respected and where all are expected to be selfless in their associations with each other and with clients.
  • Reduce temptation> With processes and procedure that reduce temptation, the employee will be less likely to indulge. Do not give employees more information or tools than they need to complete their job, and keep the workplace under standard surveillance methods.
  • Set an example> If you set a high moral stance in the organization, employees will see it and can more readily follow.
  • Surround the employee with ethical coworkers> If you know an employee struggles with ethics, team them up with others who will set an example and motivate them to work cleanly. Peer influence can have great affect.
  • Provide ethics training> If your organization is prone to deceptive practices, consider investing in ethics training. It could be that your employees simply aren't aware of what is expected or need to be reeducated.

The cost to replace an employee is very high. Estimated costs range between 1.5x and 3x the total burdened cost -- including salary, taxes, benefits, training, equipment, and more. (Source: E. Koester, MyHighTechStart-Up.)

Firing a productive employee with the intention to find and rehire someone else isn't a decision to take lightly. That decision impacts the company's bottom line. But without productive employees, an organization cannot excel, and that affects the bottom line as well.

Perhaps the best alternative is to provide course correction for the unethical employee, set appropriate expectations, and monitor the outcome. You can always take appropriate action if behavior doesn't change.

Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, VP of Marketing at Converus, makers of EyeDetect, an innovative, new deception detection technology.

Follow Russ Warner on Google+.