Ethics play a major role in business today and can impact everything from brand reputation to employee relations and overall profitability. The relationship between the disciplines of marketing/communications and ethics is one that is often overlooked, but your best marketing professionals can help you in both arenas.

Why Business Ethics?
The term ethics simply refers to the moral principles that govern behavior, and for the sake of this conversation, we are discussing the behavior of businesses, which are, in fact, made up of individuals. Upholding certain moral principles is important to the overall success of your business because a lack of values and ethical principles can negatively impact your company’s culture, lower your retention rate and damage relationships.

Unethical practices can even open the door for litigation. While there are different models and approaches to business ethics, these five common ethical practices that should are a great place to start for any business or organization.

1. Develop Ethical Standards
An integral first step is to formalize your workplace expectations and make it clear about which behaviors are and aren’t acceptable. If you haven’t done so already, a code of conduct section should be developed and included in your employee handbook. This will guide each employee into an understanding of proper conduct in the workplace and should eliminate any confusion and ambiguity about your company’s ethical practices.

2. Ensure Leaders Exhibit Appropriate Behavior
Behavior often trickles down from top to bottom within any organization. Subordinates look to their leaders not only for guidance, but for permission. That said, its imperative your leaders serve as examples for your whole staff. After all, if managers demonstrate questionable behavior, what motivates anyone else to acting appropriately? Ethical role models aren’t optional, they are necessary to the healthy culture and bottom line success of your business.

3. Consistently Enforce Policies
Not everyone is going to uphold every single ethical expectation 100 percent of the time, and rules will inevitably be broken. It’s important that you don’t tolerate unacceptable behavior. Show that there are consequences and implement zero-tolerance policies where applicable. Holding all employees accountable to ethical standards not only minimizes misbehavior, but creates an environment of justice and fairness. As soon as you fail to enforce policies consistently, your employees will make it known and this can be a PR disaster—internally and even external to your company walls.

4. Reward Good Behavior
Acknowledge individuals who live up to the values of your organization and positively represent your brand. This serves as positive reinforcement and creates brand ambassadors. Positive influencers can create long-term benefits for your business.

5. Exemplify a Charitable Culture
Companies who care about their own internal practices tend to also have a genuine desire to have a positive impact on the world. A corporate culture that emphasizes charity and generosity will instill these values in their staff, too. And a staff that cares about their own impact and cares about the impact their employer is having on the world outside of their day to day work also cares about their performance on the job. They want to be part of a winning team and a giving team, whether it’s raising money for local causes, establishing volunteer programs for employees or donating to worthy charities.

A corporate environment that values what is good—fair business practices, a safe environment for employees, a fair and just culture that allows everyone the same potential for growth and success—these are companies that will have longevity and have a long-term impact on their employees and their community.