A third of workers remain silent when they see wrongdoing

More than third of workers who are aware of misconduct at work remain silent according to new research by The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), in Partnership with The Ethics Centre.

The Ethics at Work survey of 752 Australian workers found that one in four (24%) have been aware of misconduct during the past year at work. Yet, 35% of those workers decided not to speak up. When asked what influenced their decision, 32% said they felt speaking up might jeopardise their job and 27% did not believe that corrective action would be taken.

Philippa Foster Back CBE, Director of the IBE says that the survey shows employees are becoming more confidence about speaking up, but employers need to do more. “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,” she says.

“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.”

The researchers also asked workers which dubious behaviours they thought were morally acceptable. Over half (53%) of UK workers said it was fine to make personal phone calls at work, and 39% saw no problem with taking pens from the stationary cupboard home with them.

However, only 14% agreed with fiddling expenses payments to get a little more cash, and just 17% thought it would be acceptable to favour family or friends when hiring or awarding contracts.

Jo Morgan, Head of Ethics and Compliance at Rolls Royce, says that a firm’s ethics must be more than just words on a page.

“We support our people when they have to make a tough business choice which results in walking away from business that does not meet our standards of conduct,” she says. “We also ensure that our reward and discipline mechanisms support out behaviours and we provide annual training to our employees on our Code of Conduct and how to speak up if they have a concern.”