By now, you are likely familiar with the many studies showing the correlation between employee happiness and productivity. For example, a recent study by English economists found that employee happiness led to a 12 percent increase in productivity, while unsatisfied employees were 10 percent less productive.

While we readily recognize the value of happy and motivated employees, it is easy to miss the important role that a culture of compliance can play in inspiring and motivating employees.

The answer is quite simple: beyond receiving good pay and benefits, employees are happy when their workplace is healthy, inviting, and one they can take pride in. In this analysis, we will focus on the following factors to show the role a strong compliance culture plays in inspiring your staff and increasing their happiness at work:

  • Fostering a healthy workplace
  • Inviting employees to speak up
  • Inspiring pride through integrity

Fostering a healthy workplace begins with the culture you cultivate.

Many organizations focus on business generation and the bottom line at the expense of team culture.  There are companies where employees pass by trash lying on the floor, and there are companies where employees stop to pick it up, like they would at home.

The latter is a healthy workplace where employees feel a shared sense of ownership and responsibility.  Here, doing the right thing—for the company and its customers— comes naturally.  Employees who feel they are truly part of the team are more likely to feel happy and motivated. The last thing compliance professionals want is for their colleagues to perceive them as hall monitors, giving yet another training on what they should not do.

Instead, the goal should be to inspire your employees to act in the company’s best interest, rather than to micromanage them.  This begins with setting a tone of compliance from the top, which is crystallized through internal messaging.  Convey a strong compliance message and culture—reinforcing the necessary value statement and code of conduct—by instilling positive behavior through a shared sense of ownership.

The Relationship Between Positive Culture and Corporate Reputation

Efforts to protect reputations fail when compliance programs don't address ethical issues on a cultural level.

Just as healthy relationships are built on trust, healthy workplaces are defined by the trust and freedom employees are given to positively impact an organization.  Be transparent and provide your employees with information to assist in their decision-making, then trust them to do what they think is best for the company (with some checks and controls on the back-end, of course).

Ideally, this will prompt a sense of responsibility that inspires them to—naturally—do the right thing.

Use familiar faces to invite employees to speak up.

To create a culture of compliance is to foster a culture of integrity.  It is easy to articulate admirable values, but it is harder to live by them.

A key to building a positive corporate culture is driving home the message that integrity and reputation are paramount, and that everyone’s voice is valued. Merely telling employees to “see something, say something” glosses over the difficulty of doing just that.

Encourage employees to question actions that are inconsistent with the company’s values, and empower them by providing multiple avenues to voice their concerns, such as accessible compliance and legal teams, interactive trainings, and a confidential hotline.

Further humanize the process by making it personal.  For example, give out the names of those who operate the hotline, or ensure the compliance officer is a known face in the company.

When employees understand that the management is attentive to, and supportive of, their opinions, they are primed to buy into the company’s compliance culture and speak out when they see something wrong.

Inspiring pride through integrity works in the real world.

I recently interviewed a compliance professional working in the international compliance department of a major defense contractor.  In an industry rife with corruption risks and government investigations, this particular defense contractor learned from the regulatory landscape and invested significant resources into its compliance program.

What struck me most from my conversation with the compliance professional was the obvious pride with which he spoke about helping to manage the company’s compliance program, which has become a benchmark among defense contractors worldwide.

When he interviewed for the job years ago, each team member he spoke to emphasized the corporation’s dedication to doing business with integrity.  It was clear that the compliance message was not merely lip service, but actually ingrained in the company’s culture.

He described feeling personally responsible for maintaining the high standards of the program, and was inspired to be part of a team so committed to integrity.  He spoke about his team being closely-knit, bound together by a shared sense of ownership, and a place he was proud to work at.

Over the years, the company developed a hard-earned reputation of running an industry-leading program, including a recent Global Counsel Award for Best Regulatory Legal Team.

Cultivating a happy and productive workplace through compliance is not easy, but devoting the time and resources necessary to foster a culture of integrity will prove critical as your company navigates an evolving marketplace.