Holding employees accountable: embedding a culture of accountability in the workplace

accountability in the workplace

How important is accountability in your workplace? Do your employees take sufficient personal responsibility on a day to day basis? Do you have specific legislation or regulations that you are bound by or Governing bodies or inspectors that you want to avoid breathing down your neck i.e. Ofsted, CQC, HSE, FCA to name a few?  Does the survival of your business rely on your employees being responsible and accountable? What happens to your business when your employees fail to demonstrate accountability?

If these are questions you have asked yourself in the past and have struggled to deal with employees who do not demonstrate or embrace accountability then read on for helpful tips and advice on how you can safeguard your business and hold your employees more accountable.

So, what do we mean by ‘accountability’?

 Accountability is a desire to take responsibility for results; a bias towards action. People who demonstrate accountability can recognise, accept and take full ownership of tasks/projects that fall into their area of responsibility. This includes any results they contribute towards or create. When something doesn’t work out or deadlines are not met, these are the people who look at themselves first to see how they affected the end result. They do not blame others or the situation; rather they think about their input and focus on avoiding the same mistakes in the future. How great would it be if all your staff and teams behaved like this? Performance and productivity would be through the roof!

Accountability is absolutely paramount for Leaders because it is physically impossible for senior leaders to carry out the work of the employees themselves. The only way the work is going to get done by other people is to be clear on what the expectations are and to hold them to account for achieving the results.

Quite simply put, if someone agrees to adhere to Health and Safety policies but doesn’t do so, they need to be held accountable, if sales targets are set and they are not met, they need to be held accountable, if there is a code for professional conduct and someone acts in disregard for that they need to be held accountable.

Lack of accountability and the impact!

 There are particular industries, such as the care sector, education, construction/manufacturing and finance to name a few that are heavily regulated and are bound by certain levels of standards but what happens when things go wrong, even in less regulated industries and what impact does that have on your business?

The blame game!

Of course, there are the general all-round frustrations that come from lack of accountability, such as needy employees or those that complain excessively, which in turn saps energy and causes poor staff retention.

There are the typical moans, groans and excuses from employees who are quick to blame others saying….‘It’s the company’s fault!’, ‘I haven’t had training in that!’, ‘My manager should have warned me!’, ‘It’s not on my job spec so it’s not my responsibility!’ ‘They didn’t do their bit first, so of course I haven’t done my bit!’ and the list goes on…

All of these might seem quite trivial in the grand scheme of things but the blame game can make for a highly toxic workplace and can have a detrimental effect, not just on the performance of the business, but the wellbeing of the individuals within it.

A less nimble machine!

Lack of accountability can result in disengaged employees, resulting in reduced productivity and possibly higher staff turnover and absence.

Then there is the likelihood of missed deadlines and goals, resulting in poor sales and failure to achieve targets. In a nutshell, you have a ‘machine’ that is less nimble than your competitors!

Can it get more serious?

Costly fines, dismissal for gross misconduct, revoking of licences, being struck off a register, prosecution and possibly even imprisonment perhaps? Okay, so they are all extreme consequences but certainly relevant and very real in some circumstances as the following examples highlight.

Some examples:

Last year, the Rose and Crown Hotel in Colchester were fined in excess of £36,000 for failing to follow Health and Safety Regulations which led to a guest suffering an electric shock. This came following five previous breaches of Health and Safety. Clearly, someone should have been accountable for taking Health and Safety seriously when matters of this nature had been raised prior to the electric shock incident.

Here at Jaluch, we see a whole myriad of cases of unacceptable behaviours due to a lack of accountability in the workplace. One notable case was a Sales Director who was known to be too touchy feely with female colleagues. He was not held accountable by his boss for his actions because of his incredible sales record, which overshadowed all else. Eventually the Company were sued for sex harassment and the fine was so substantial that they ended up firing him anyway – plus they lost a fair number of good female employees in the previous years, which was an added cost to the business.

Even HR Professionals need to be held to account, which was the case in Groman v Universal Science 2018. An HR Consultant was appointed to carry out an investigation into a Sexual Harassment claim but failed to look at the allegations in a fair and objective manner, being quick to reach a conclusion that then didn’t stand up at the Employment Tribunal.

Shift of power

If no one holds anyone to account, then who will feel a need to be accountable? If managers shy away from having difficult conversations through fear of upsetting their employees then in reality, we are allowing our employees to manage us, rather than us manage them.

Take our UK education system for example, where the observation of many is that it is in chaos! In part because power has been transferred from teacher to student. This has been to the extent that the majority of students don’t expect to be criticised, resulting in an overall lessening of resilience and general over sensitivity to feedback.

What does an employee who demonstrates accountability look like?

 These are a few behaviours and traits we recognise in an employee who embraces accountability:

  • When things go wrong, they tend to think through what they did wrong rather than immediately look to blame others or find excuses resulting in a more adult working environment.
  • They tend to admit to errors and don’t seek to justify or excuse what happened.
  • They focus on what they could do to put it right rather than suggest that others need to improve their performance.
  • It is clear their colleagues trust them to be honest, to admit errors and not to take credit for what is not their success, thus making for a mutually trusting environment.
  • They identify and address issues that arise even when they are not within their own department or area of responsibility.
  • They look and act engaged and motivated and thus are likely to be higher performers.

 Strategies for embedding a culture of accountability in the workplace

Lead by example – Senior Leaders need to demonstrate accountability each and every day – not just when things go well. If staff see the senior team playing a blame game or ‘duck the blame’ game, then they will too.

Set clear boundaries – It’s much easier to hold people to account if the boundaries are clear so that employees understand what is expected of them and are aware of what are acceptable standards and behaviours. Make sure they know what they are doing and what is required of them in accordance with their job description.

Develop managers skills – It is the way the manager handles making someone accountable and the way that is delivered that is the key. The focus should be on positive behaviours and not ‘telling off’, with the objective of improving accountability and performance. Make sure your managers have the capabilities to make people accountable in a positive manner by considering accountability training or 1-1 coaching sessions with managers.

Deal with those who reject personal accountability – Explain what personal accountability is about – don’t assume they know. Explore their views/fears on taking responsibility and find out what is stopping them from being personally accountable. Ask them for their ideas to help turn this around and identify what support you can give them. Document what they commit to doing and agree a timescale for them to change their behaviour. If things don’t improve then you can look to take steps towards formal action.

Want to take this forward? What can we at Jaluch do to support you?

  • We can deliver bespoke accountability training to your managers and employees to help them better understand what it means to be accountable in their role and provide them with the tools and understanding of the behaviours to embrace accountability.
  • We can provide one to one coaching for managers who need development/upskilling when it comes to dealing with difficult employees, especially those who fail to demonstrate and embrace accountability in the workplace.
  • We can support you with writing and updating your job descriptions and person specifications to be clear on specific areas of accountability within job roles.
  • We can carry out a comprehensive review of your performance management process to weave in competencies around accountability.
  • An HR Audit is a great way to identify gaps, risk factors and training needs to ensure you are compliant from an employment law perspective. By recognising where the gaps are in your processes, you can address these, raise awareness in the business and hold people accountable, ultimately providing you with reassurance that you have all the correct processes and practices in place … so there can be no excuses and blaming the process!

Between us at Jaluch we have over 150 years of HR experience! We deliver bespoke HR advice to over 300 clients in the UK and are proud to have won a plethora of awards. We would be delighted to support you so please do get in touch.

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The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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