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    Companies Focused on Ethics

    More American workers say their bosses have high integrity, according to a new survey.

    SAN ANTONIO -- U.S. businesses have been getting challenged over the past two years since public scandals began to publicly rock corporate America's biggest companies. Perhaps surprisingly, though, more American workers said their bosses have high integrity compared to when workplace ethics became a hot topic two years ago, according to a survey released today.

    Fifty-four percent said their top brass had high integrity versus 49 percent in 2001, according to Indianapolis workplace consultant Walker Information.

    It supports an earlier Society for Human Resource Management study in which just 35 percent of human resource executives said they had observed ethical violations last year versus 53 percent in 1997.

    But bosses still have some way to go, according to the Walker study. Fewer employees feel comfortable reporting misconduct. They said they fear retaliation, lack of confidentiality, and don't feel the company would follow up on the complaint.

    Both studies reported that workers feel increasing pressure to cut corners, usually due to budget crunches. Highly regarded companies find ways to increase honest dialogue even as a company expands or contracts, experts said.

    Some convenience store and petroleum companies have addressed employee fears by setting up hotlines for anonymous complaints, according to the San Antonio Express

    Valero Energy Corp. also set a mediating division to investigate and rule on employee complaints, even those from former employees. The energy company will pay up to $1,000 in attorney fees if the employee chooses to have a lawyer during the proceedings.

    Most of all, top management must stress ethical behavior, the studies and local executives say.

    For example, Valero CEO and Chairman Bill Greehey checks his in-house e-mails at lunchtime and has been know to order an investigation based on worker concerns.

    "It keeps everyone on their toes," said Mike Crownover, Valero's vice president of human resources, who was recently sent to investigate a complaint that a convenience store manager was treating subordinates in a less than dignified way.

    "He was abrupt, condescending ... focusing on the negative and not recognizing the extra work and effort of his employees," said Crownover.

    He sent the manager to leadership training to learn to use positive reinforcement. But the company, ranked one of the best places to work, also accepted and corrected its own fault.

    Crownover said one factor contributing to miscommunication among employees is rapid expansion and poor training. Valero operates more than 1,200 convenience stores and gas stations nationwide, many of which the company acquired over a short period of time. Now it is focused on relaying Valero's rules and regulations to all employees.

    "[The manager] had been pre-UDS (Ultramar Diamond Shamrock), with Total, and sometimes things are confusing to managers when cultures change," Crownover said. "You have to say, 'I know how you used to do things, but these are the rules here.'"

    As follow-up, Crownover checks periodically with the employee who sent the original complaint to see if the manager has changed. A month and a half later, he said, so far so good.

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