Misconduct is on the Decline, but There’s Still Work to be Done

By March 6, 2014 No Comments

silver whistleThe Ethics Resource Center published results in February from its eighth National Business Ethics Survey, and the findings are heartening.

Chief among the positive reports is that workplace misconduct has reached a historic low.  This is a marked improvement over the ERC’s 2011 survey, in which 55 percent of employees observed misconduct; last year, 41 percent reported witnessing behavior that was amiss.

Notable findings also include:

— A drop – from 13 to 9 percent – in employees who felt pressured to compromise their standards.
— An increase – from 60 to 66 percent – in companies with a “strong” or “strong-leaning” ethics culture.
— Even greater focus on ethics training, up from 74 to 81 percent between 2011 and last year.

ERC Chairman Michael Oxley (you may recognize the name from 2002’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a landmark whistleblower protection statute) notes that these results “are encouraging and show that companies are doing a better job of holding workers accountable, imposing discipline for misconduct and letting it be known publicly that bad behavior will be punished.”

ERC President Pat Harned agrees that fewer incidences of misconduct indicate stronger corporate culture, saying “…when a company has a weak culture, it is more likely to have frequent incidents of misconduct versus rogue incidents in a company that has a stronger culture.”  However, the recession may have played as significant a role in any improvements, as workers less sure of their job security are less likely to engage in risky behavior.

The survey also revealed that while misconduct is on the wane, the instances that remain are primarily conducted by management, with 24 percent of rule-breaking carried out by senior managers, 19 percent by middle managers and 17 percent by first-line supervisors.

Fear of retaliation, retribution and negative reactions continue to silence many witnesses to improper conduct, however.  This is one key area where HR can and should step up.  As a neutral party, HR should be checking in to ensure whistleblowers aren’t experiencing blowback after reporting misconduct and addressing any issues or misunderstandings as they arise.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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