Employees pressured to compromise ethics

Employees across Europe are coming under increasing pressure to compromise ethical standards, according to a survey by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), while almost a third have come across examples of misconduct at work.

Its research found one in six employees in Europe (16%) say that they have felt some form of pressure to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards. The number of employees experiencing this pressure has risen in all of the countries for which historical data is available.

Philippa Foster Back, IBE director, said: “Employees are under more stress to deliver than ever before, and this is increasing the pressure to then cut ethical corners. These figures should be seen as a warning sign to organisations that they need to be more supportive of their employees when it comes to making ethical decisions.”

Nearly one in three employees have been aware of legal or ethical misconduct during the past year at work (30%). People treated inappropriately or unethically is the most frequent type of misconduct (46%) mentioned, followed by misreporting hours worked (35%) and safety violations (30%).

However, the survey also suggests that employees are more likely to speak up about misconduct now than in the past.

Over half (54%) of employees who were aware of misconduct spoke up, which is an improvement on 2015. Employees in the UK were the most likely to have reported misconduct (67%).

Foster Back said: “Global movements like #metoo and #timesup are having ramifications throughout the workplace, not just in terms of people speaking up about harassment, but in feeling empowered to raise concerns about other issues. We hope that this is the beginning of speaking up being seen as business as usual.”

However, the attitudes of managers to petty fiddling have become more tolerant over time. Three in ten (30%) of managers think petty fiddling is inevitable in a modern organisation. One in eight (13%) of managers even say it is acceptable to artificially increase profits in the books as long as no money is stolen.

The survey data indicated that employees who work in what the IBE identifies as a ‘supportive environment for ethics’ tend to have a higher opinion of honesty in their organisation; are less likely to have been aware of misconduct at work; and are more likely to have spoken up about misconduct if they have.

Foster Back said: “People follow their leaders, and managers play a key role in defining an organisation’s ethical culture.

“Organisations need to make sure that managers especially are trained and supported in ethical decision-making, especially as pressure on all employees increases in the current climate.”

IBE’s survey, first introduced in 2005, asks employees how they experience ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day working lives, including whether they have witnessed misconduct, whether they have reported, and what stops them.

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