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HR Under Attack Over Phone Hacking Scandal

Submitted by  on August 3rd, 2011

Woman on mobile phone looking shockedThere is no doubt that the News of the World phone hacking scandal has raised many questions, particularly in regard to corporate ethics. While executives and the senior management team of the former newspaper are under severe scrutiny over these revelations, business ethicist, Professor Roger Steare, argues that Human Resources should take a large portion of the blame for this, and other major corporate collapses.

Professor Steare maintains that the ethical standards of an organization are the responsibility of HR professionals. However, is he right when he says, “HR are delinquents when it comes to ethics.”? The professor believes that HR has taken a back seat when it comes to ethics in the workplace and, as a result, company leaders alone are shouldering the responsibility for workplace behaviour. While the professor does acknowledge that management are ultimately accountable for the ethical standards within their companies, he points out that it is the job of HR professionals to advise leaders in regard to the conduct of their employees.

Professor Steare draws attention to the fact that organizational bureaucracy and a controlling company hierarchy often prevents Human Resources from being more proactive in managing ethical standards in organizations. However, he is critical of HR professionals for not speaking up and challenging company executives in relation to unethical practices happening in the workplace. He goes on to argue that it is the responsibility of Human Resources to inform company leaders of suspected or observed unethical behaviour and how this behaviour should be dealt with and discouraged. While this argument has a lot of merit, the question that needs to be asked in relation to this phone hacking incident is whether or not HR had knowledge of the actions of these journalists. Was it their job to know? The professor believes so.

It is no secret that organizations are operating in an era where consumers are well informed and opinions matter. Customers are more perceptive and the reputations of companies are becoming increasingly more important. Companies of the future will be ones that will be able to build and maintain a high degree of credibility and this, the professor believes, is where Human Resources need to begin taking a more active role.

There is no question that the closure of one of News International’s longest running newspapers over this incident has highlighted the importance of business ethics. However, should HR professionals shoulder the responsibility for any unethical practices that occur in organizations? Is the Professor being too harsh? What do you think?

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Posted in Change, Communication | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “HR Under Attack Over Phone Hacking Scandal”

  1. Lionel Boxer Says:

    This is nonsense. Senior management is responsible for the culture. Problems arise when senior management does not lead and delegates leadership to the clerical people who manage and administer the hiring, training, retention and dismissal processes. That this article was written demonstrates how little people understand about leadership, the responsiblities of senior management, and the limited ability of clerical staff to influence on behalf of senior management.

  2. Leslie Allan Says:

    Thanks Lionel for piping up. What happens when some of the HR folk are part of the senior management team -as HR Director, VP of HR, Chief HR Officer, etc?

  3. Lionel Boxer Says:

    If HR people are part of the senior management team you would expect them to be leaders and to urge the other senior managers to behave like leaders. Unfortuantely, this does not happen. Too often lawyers, accountants, other technocrats hold senior positions and they arrived at these high altitudes without ever having developed any leadership competency. This is why opportunities to learn leadership should not be dismissed. For example:

  4. Leslie Allan Says:

    Hi Lionel. HR urge the other senior managers to behave like leaders? I think you are closer to Professor Steare than you may realize. That’s part of what he was saying. E.g., He says “HR professionals need to educate leaders and the board about how human beings behave in the workforce when faced with certain situations …”

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