DENVER – One session at Government Fleet Expo & Conference 2012 (GFX) focused on the subject of ethics in fleet management. John Hunt, fleet manager for the City of Portland, Ore., and Dave Head, fleet manager for the County of Sonoma, Calif., gave the presentation, which focused on the high ethical standards fleet management professionals must uphold.

One theme running throughout their presentation was that even borderline ("gray area") ethical slips can cost a fleet manager his or her job in the current political environment in the U.S., as fleet managers are responsible for managing taxpayer dollars.

Dave Head provided a short list of types of unethical behavior to look out for in a fleet organization:

  • Abusive behavior (verbal abuse, for example);
  • Putting one’s own interest ahead of the organization’s interests;
  • Abusing Internet use privileges (i.e. using the organization’s Internet for non-business purposes);
  • Lying to employees, Head said this is a cardinal sin in his book;
  • Misreporting of hours worked;
  • Improper hiring practices (Head used nepotism as an example);
  • Safety violations;
  • Lying to stakeholders;
  • Discrimination;
  • Environmental violations;
  • Providing low-quality goods and services;
  • Theft;
  • Sexual harassment;
  • Alteration of documents;
  • Alteration of financial records (Head said he can’t think of a single document he’s worked on with the County that is worth his job).

Hunt described the factors that can lead to misconduct in the workplace, specifically the following: an opportunity for it to occur; an environment conducive to it (for example where money is managed and purchasing takes place); a lack of managerial awareness; and a lack of guidelines for intervention in place.

Both Hunt and Head agreed with an attendee who described a basic rule for ethical conduct with regard to use of services available in a government organization: if a taxpayer doesn’t have access to a given service, then government employees can’t make personal use of that service.

For fleet management professionals, Head said that to avoid misconduct it’s imperative to encourage ethical behavior among staff and to personally adhere the ethical standards you and the organization sets. 

He said fleet managers should give employees positive feedback for ethical conduct and prepare them to handle situations that invite misconduct. He also said they should feel like they can question management’s decisions (respectfully) without reprisal. He also said it’s crucial to recognize them for following ethical standards. Employees need to feel positive about the organization’s efforts to encourage ethical conduct and feel that their organization is an ethical workplace.

As a final point, Head said that it’s always a good idea to do a “gut check” in situations where the ethical choice is not a cut-and-dried one to make. Basically, if your gut starts to churn when you’re thinking about a given choice, that’s probably the wrong choice.

From there, the session moved to a group discussion where fleet manager attendees discussed the various ethical issues that they were dealing with and how to manage them.

By Greg Basich