While the economy went to bust, business ethics are on their way to boom. The Ethics Resource Center’s National Business Ethics Survey found that the strength of ethical culture in the workplace increased to 62 percent this year, reflecting improvements in employee perceptions in measures of ethical culture, misconduct observed, willingness to report and pressures to cut corners.
The 9 percent increase from 53 percent in 2007 shows an inverse correlation to the economic state, per the report.
One clue to the stronger ethical culture is the reduced amount of misconduct observed, which dropped from 56 percent in 2007 to 49 percent this year. Additionally, when employees saw ethics violations, they were more willing to report them (63 percent), including an increase in reporting sexual harassment (2 percent), discrimination (9 percent), and improper hiring practices (4 percent).
Only 8 percent of employees noted a perceived pressure to act unethically, down from 10 percent in 2007.
ERC noted that the largely positive findings are most likely temporary. A similar pattern of business ethics gain was seen during economic decline between 2000 and 2003, only to be followed by decreases in ethical behaviors once the economy regained momentum.
ERC President Patricia J. Harned noted that "what employees experience their leaders doing has a huge influence on how they will actually behave at work. If they see a CEO taking bigger risks because the economy is good, employees take more risks too. When an employer says, ‘We must uphold high standards,’ employees also follow."
Yet, there is also a dark side, as there was an increase (3 percent) in the number of staffers who experienced retaliation--for example, verbal abuse--for reporting ethics violations. Harned said that this could be caused by the pressures supervisors feel to avoid problems and attention.
She added though, that companies are more likely to be supportive of their employees in encouraging diligence because of the desire to keep the company out of trouble. "Right now is actually the time to trust business."