recruitment ethics

Why Organisations Must Consider Ethics In Their Recruitment Processes

29 March, 2021

Cranlana Centre CEO Vanessa Pigrum says organisations need to consider the ethics of their recruitment process, and how it’s experienced by unsuccessful candidates, in this article for Recruitment Marketing Magazine .

Recruiters are often worried about the impact of a bad hire. No-one wants to be responsible for hiring ‘the bad apple’ and causing organisational damage as a result. There’s obviously a financial cost however, interestingly, that isn’t what most worried 2,100 CFOs surveyed about the impact of a bad hire. The majority were most concerned about declining staff morale, with managers spending approximately 17% of their time dealing with poorly performing employees, followed by a drop in productivity, and then financial costs.

But how often do we consider the implications of the ethicality of our recruitment processes themselves? Are we, deliberately or by omission, creating a recruitment culture that is experienced by some as unethical? It really is a matter of perspective and which end of the recruitment process you are standing in.

If you’re reading this then you are probably an experienced HR professional who has conducted an untold number of recruitment processes over many years. You know all the up to date practices, you’ve completed the training, you’ve probably even trained others in how to run a fair and transparent recruitment process.

But sometimes we might be complying with these processes because we know that we (or the organisation) could “get in trouble” if we don’t. It is more ‘stick’ than ‘carrot’. It’s also highly likely that if you’re involved in recruitment on a daily basis, you may have conflated the notion of legal compliance with being ethical. There’s certainly an overlap, but compliance is not and should not be the whole story.

So, this begs the question…What does an unethical recruitment process look like? And for this I’m nudging you to think about the recruitment process from the candidate’s point of view.

Why? Because unsuccessful candidates should be thought of as ambassadors for your company. Treat them ethically throughout the whole process and you will be strengthening your organisation’s reputation ‘out there’. Treat them unfairly, or neglectfully, and you risk creating potentially thousands of people sharing stories about how they were treated that can do significant damage to your brand. 

Unethical recruitment practices can arise from a simple oversight, or not taking the time to consider how your process is being experienced outside the organisation. With the increase in the number of applications being received – sometimes hundreds for a single role – it is easy to be overwhelmed, take shortcuts and end up unintentionally treating people unethically.

So what do we mean by unethical recruitment practices?

Nepotism without a competitive process springs to mind. But less obvious unethical practices could include 

  • An overcomplicated application process written with impenetrable internal jargon. Only insiders can understand it.
  • Unfair timelines – too short, too long, too much time between written application and interview, not enough notice between the invitation to be interviewed and the scheduled time allotted to them.
  • An impossible job description that no individual could ever fulfil. Or a job description that promises more than your organisation can or will deliver eg autonomous decision-making
  • Interview panels that are single gender, or far too senior compared to the role being recruited. Power on display can unfairly influence the interviewee’s performance, no matter how friendly and approachable you think you are.

And the biggest ethical downfall is not communicating with candidates once they are no longer being considered. Have you ever been ghosted after an interview, never hearing from the organisation ever again? I certainly have, even after a second-round interview. This is a common ethical gap that recruiting panels can overlook. While you might be pre-occupied with onboarding the successful candidate, you still have an obligation to treat unsuccessful candidates well and ethically.

Once you have hired the right person, reinforce company values in the onboarding process.  Talk explicitly about the importance of integrity. If you have a large cohort being welcomed, have the CEO set the tone by coming and talking to them about ethical work practices. Draw on actual examples where possible. Illustrate that the company walks the walk, and if there are ethical failings to be dealt with it welcomes bad news AND acts on it.

Don’t make the onboarding process the last time employees hear about your ethics and values. Reinforce them regularly in ways that make sense for your industry and company. Again, this needs to be led from the top and supported by HR. 

An ethical recruitment process will strengthen diversity in your organisation, the benefits of which, beyond a nice-to-have, were recently established in a world-first study which identified the causal role between greater gender diversity and business success. Over the last six years, Australian companies which appointed a female CEO increased their market value by 5 per cent — worth nearly $80 million to an average ASX200 company. Similarly, research revealed that London-listed companies are more profitable when women make up more than one in three executive roles, with a profit margin more than 10 times greater than those without. While this research was on gender, the principle applies to diversity more generally.

Diversity also encourages uncommon innovation, that path to exceptional ROI. It comes from leadership teams having the courage and willingness to think differently, and challenging others in the company to do the same. Thinking differently is easier if not everyone in the conversation looks and sounds exactly the same. Teams with mixed backgrounds, ethnicity and gender are more successful because they challenge group-think. They bring broader perspectives, have more discussion and debate, leading to better decision-making. They also more accurately reflect the communities businesses operate in, and the consumers they sell to.  

While there’s no guarantee when it comes to recruitment, implementing an ethical process that reflects genuinely held organisational values means you’re choosing from a pool of high calibre candidates, and that offers the best chance of finding the best person.

Recruitment Marketing Magazine, 26 March 2021. Read the full article here.

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash