We have all seen an old broken window covered in dust and dirt at some point in our lives. It is not an unusual point of view. In fact, we may not even be noticing it most of the time. Is there, however, a link between a broken window and employee happiness? One might think this is an odd comparison. No, we will not look at the best types of windows that firms should use in their workplace in this article. Instead, we will dig deeper into the metaphor to discover how it applies to the workplace. But first, what does the metaphor for a broken window represent? 

The broken window we are referring to is in fact the “Broken Window Theory”, first introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982. They suggested that if a building’s window is broken and not restored, residents in the area will feel less guilty about breaking the remainder of the windows, perhaps all of them. Because certain places are filled by determined window-breakers while others are populated by window-lovers, window breaking does not necessary occur on a large scale; rather, one un-repaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. Individuals will be less likely to break anything if all windows are intact and any broken windows are repaired swiftly, as opposed to the first scenario. Despite widespread criticism, the broken windows theory had a significant impact on NYC police policy in the 1990s and has remained influential into the twenty-first century. Broken windows policing, to simply stated, is an attempt to control low-level crime in order to avert wider disruption. Neighbourhoods will appear more cared for and cleaner if these minor crimes are considerably decreased.

So, how does this theory apply to employee happiness and productivity in the workplace? The Broken Window Theory has been used in the workplace to improve company culture. It is recommended that businesses address minor issues as soon as they arise in order to avoid larger issues in the future. Overuse of a company printer, for example, or misappropriation of a company transportation vehicle should be dealt with quickly so that larger crimes, such as financial fraud, are less likely to occur. Broken windows arise when businesses opt to overlook early signals of poor behaviour, which reveals itself later in senior leadership behaviour, which can further damage the organization’s reputation. Senior managers set a tone at the top by dealing with minor concerns, which then spreads throughout the organization, that minor issues will be dealt with immediately in order to prevent more significant transgressions. Ethical leadership rules out over self-interested behaviour. 

The Broken Window Theory also serves as an excellent illustration of why an organization’s ethical culture should remain one of the top priorities of its operations. While many businesses would want to believe they have done their share to ensure an ethical workplace, the reality is that this is not always the case. According to a 2018 survey, 47% have previously witnessed actions that were in violation of either the law or the company’s ethical standards, and more than half of these infractions were perpetrated by someone in a management or supervisory role. Now, it is crucial to keep in mind that the severity of these breaches can vary a lot, but they have all happened. It is not just the act itself that is problematic, but the message that is delivered when nothing is done to address unethical behaviour. If nothing else, a company’s culture should be important because a lack of it can lead to “greater turnover, lower productivity, and, eventually, a degraded reputation and profitability.” 

In the past, it appears that the most successful strategy to support ethical behaviour in the workplace is to build a strong culture around it. To begin, organizations must implement a program that defines the aspects of ethics, compliance, and values that employees must adhere to. These should be well-defined, widely publicized, and provide guidance to employees when faced with ethical difficulties. Since the tone at the top is so important for this to work, it’s alarming that the majority of infractions come from management and supervisory roles. The importance of the culture must be emphasized across management, and individuals in positions of leadership should publicly support these standards, meet performance targets, and urge anybody who witnesses misconduct to speak up. Failure to do so should result in repercussions.

In practice, there are many approaches that organizations can use to effectively address such broken window behaviours. Following the establishment of clear policies, a training program to instil these principles should be designed. Internal auditors should examine, and a top-level official should be assigned to oversee compliance with these policies. Internal controls are essential in this process and should be robust in order to prevent and detect noncompliance. Whistle-blower protection policies should be in place, as well as a resource for employees seeking advice on inappropriate actions. Those who do not follow the organization’s ethical guidelines should be penalized, while those who do should be praised.

Furthermore, by extending the Broken Windows theory’s social control application, organizational managers can encourage desirable behaviour among employees by improving the physical aspects of the workplace, particularly those that employees can see. These qualities are the visual cues that influence employees’ views of the firm and their subsequent behaviour toward it. For example, corporate administrators can reduce broken windows or ignore indications such as visual obstructions and other physical obstacles to communication between offices, desks, or cubicles to increase the pace of exchange of innovative ideas among employees. With these restrictions, employees may believe that the corporation ignores their psychosocial needs.

Companies’ financial performance can be improved by incorporating the Broken Windows theory into corporate practices. Incorporating theory into human resource management policies and initiatives, for example, can improve the effectiveness of employee training programs and leadership development. The architecture of training locations, as well as the features of materials and equipment employed, should be considered in this broken windows policing of the enterprise environment. Employees are influenced to follow corporate regulations by orderliness, cleanliness, and an overall streamlined structure and design of workspaces. Through the use of clean and well operating materials and equipment, business managers can expect compliant employee behaviour. Broken windows, which include improperly constructed venues, inefficient layouts, disorganized materials, rusty and malfunctioning equipment, and dusty floors and seats, must be reduced or eliminated in this business strategy of using the Broken Windows theory for higher business performance via human resource management.

To summarize, an organization will reap what it sows. If an organization does not make an effort to mediate and prevent ethical misconduct immediately, they will most likely have to do much more work in the future to clean up the mess they have created. The Broken Windows Theory is a welcome addition to the toolset that all companies should have in place to deal with little issues before they become major difficulties and inflict irreversible harm to the organization’s health and well-being.