Why we shouldn’t assume that the way we implemented our ethics programme is still effective during a pandemic

17 February 2021


Alex Fell, Head of Ethics and Compliance at Amicus Therapeutics International, discusses why E&C solutions of the past might not work in our current environment.

As many approach twelve months of working from home, that sense of connection and belonging employees feel towards their employer and the organisational culture could be on the wane. It then stands to reason that the values and culture that guide employee behaviours at work could also be at risk. The pressures that can lead to unethical behaviour have changed. Workers across the country are facing new and unprecedented challenges. As a whole, we’re balancing delivering increasingly challenging objectives with little oversight, home schooling our children and caring for isolated relatives. We’re doing all of this in the context of financial and job insecurity, a lack of social interaction, holidays and fun, and all while competing over online supermarket delivery slots.

So how do you maintain ethical conduct and employee engagement during a pandemic, and is this even something you need to worry about? 

It is my view that a shared ethical identity enhances the sense of connection employees feel with their employers and colleagues. So, in these times, we should redouble our efforts to build and maintain it.

However, it’s tempting for ethics professionals when recognising a potential issue to feel the need to do something, and in many cases to default to the activities that have helped us succeed in the past to get our messages across rather than understanding the current challenge. I suspect that many ethics and compliance departments across the UK are busy rolling out more e-learning courses, motivational messages, newsletters and asking their CEO to remind people about their organisation’s undoubted commitment to ethical conduct. These things have worked in the past, but we have no reason to expect them to be as effective in this very different environment. 

Before we get to the solution, do we really understand what’s different about homeworking and the different pressures and influences that impact on the way people behave at work. Without the counter-balance of our colleagues, are our natural risk taking or risk avoidance tendencies exacerbated? When we are worried about money and about our jobs, do we behave differently? How do we reach people who are being bombarded with communications both at work and home, when their capacity to absorb new information may be limited?

Here are a few of the interventions we’re doing at Amicus to make a difference.

  1. Taking time to understand pressures. When it comes to specific interventions to explore the impact of the pandemic on behaviours, we wanted to make sure that our managers and team leaders were equipped to have real conversations with their teams, explicitly focusing on understanding the work and home pressures that people are feeling. To do this, we trained all of our employees using live simulation exercises to explore and recognise the different pressures we are exposed to. We focused on understanding how these novel pressures may impact on decision making. 
  2. Moving from Integrity to Integrity Leadership. Consistent with the majority of FTSE 100 companies, one of our prioritised values is Integrity, and we need more from our leaders than just avoiding legal violations and completing their training. We prefer the term ‘Integrity Leadership’ and have defined the specific Integrity Leadership behaviours we want to visibly and consistently see displayed. These behaviours are not complex but focus on the practical steps employees can take, such as proactively building risk mitigation activities into timelines and strategies, or requesting an audit of their area. We also brought to life what Integrity Leadership means in all aspects of management such as talent decisions, bringing an ethical mindset to your ways of working, as well as role modelling and coaching colleagues. 
  3. Keeping the corporate blurb to a minimum. We started with the premise that you need a small, core set of prioritised values to have an impact, to avoid your messaging being washed out by the volume of information you expect your employees to absorb. We focused on delivering very practical messaging that can easily be understood globally. 
  4. Evaluating: What gets measured gets done. As well as Integrity leadership forming part of our annual bonus award, we provide managers with multiple sources of data to assess Integrity Leadership, from self-assessments, to multiple peer and team feedback opportunities and ‘skip level’ meetings as standard where our employees regularly meet with their manager’s manager to interact and provide feedback. This means that the way you demonstrably live our values matters as much as how well you performed. We aren’t solely reliant on the Ethics and Compliance team to bring them to life, it’s part of everyone’s responsibility and part of every touchpoint with the company.

Let me finish by highlighting that in this global pandemic, companies are facing similar challenges. Rather than coming up with individual solutions in silos, we can use the power of our network to share what works. This means working across your organisations to explore and address the challenges together but also learning from the approaches and insights taken by ethics colleagues in other companies. The more we lean on each other for advice, guidance and sharing good practices the higher chance we have of succeeding. 


Alex Fell
Alex Fell

Head of Ethics and Compliance, Amicus Therapeutics International

Alex Fell is the Head of Ethics and Compliance International, at Amicus Therapeutics, a global biotechnology company with International Headquarters in the UK.  Prior to joining Amicus in 2019, Alex was the Vice President, Head of Strategy, Planning and Operations within the Global Ethics & Compliance function at GSK where he spent a total of 13 years in Ethics and Compliance leadership roles in the UK, the USA and Singapore.  Alex graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in International Business Management and is a UK Chartered Accountant.