REUTERS | Vasily Fedosenko

IBE Ethics at Work Survey 2018: a tool for the savvy ethics or compliance officer

The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) Ethics at Work Survey 2018 report identifies a number of key findings from the UK relating broadly to culture, behaviour, speaking up and ethics programmes. The UK findings are compared in the report with the European responses from Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees – Europe.

For those with a compliance or ethics role in an organisation, the findings are an interesting, and at times surprising, read and are a useful tool in the testing and benchmarking of corporate culture and ethics and compliance programmes.

The Survey report (and for those of you with European businesses, the European Survey) is worthy of review and consideration in its entirety, particularly the areas of focus and considerations that the IBE suggests. To whet your appetite, the following highlights just some of the key findings from the nationally representative sample of 764 UK employees.

The ethical culture of an organisation

The acceptability of nine common work-related scenarios was queried ranging from using the internet for personal use during work hours to favouring family or friends when recruiting or awarding contracts.

The ‘top 3’ unacceptable practices considered contrary to an ethical culture were:

  • Pretending to be sick to take a day off (85%)
  • Charging personal entertainment to expenses (85%)
  • Minor fiddling/exaggeration of travel expenses (83%)

Interestingly, with the exception of favouring family or friends when recruiting or awarding contracts, UK employees seem to take a more lenient approach than the European average to each of the nine practices.

Identifying ethical risks

The survey considered two measures:

  • Employees’ awareness of misconduct in the workplace
  • Potential pressure on employees to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards

24% in the UK said that they have been aware of misconduct in the workplace, this being below the European average of 30%. The highest ranked misconduct identified in both the UK and Europe is people being treated inappropriately/unethically. This came in at 48% for the UK and 46% in Europe.

12% of UK respondents felt some form of pressure to compromise their organisation’s standards of ethical behaviour, 4 points below the European figure of 16%.

The ‘top 3’ pressures leading to compromised standards of ethical behaviour were:

  • Under-resourcing (35%)
  • Time pressure (34%)
  • Following boss’s orders (28%)

Supporting ethical standards

The respondents were asked whether their organisation lays down the following building blocks of a formal ethics programme:

  • A code of ethics or similar
  • A ‘Speak-up’ line to report misconduct
  • An ‘Advice-line’ to ask for advice or information
  • Ethics training

38% advised that their organisation provides all four blocks, with 13% saying it offers none, compared with the European figures of 19% and 21% respectively.

The ability of employees to voice their ethics-related concerns

67% of UK respondents said they would raise their concerns directly to management, or using the mechanisms provided for in their organisation, if they were aware of misconduct in their organisation. This compared to a European average of 54%.

Those who were aware of misconduct but did not raise their concerns cited the ‘top 3’ reasons as:

  • Fear of jeopardising their job (33%)
  • Not believing that corrective action would be taken(26%)
  • Fear of alienation from colleagues (26%)

The role of line managers in promoting ethics in the workplace

64% are positive about the behaviour of their line manager, particularly in setting a positive example around ethical behaviour. However, 33% believe that, when decisions about rewards and recognition are involved, their line manager prioritises ‘what’ is achieved over ‘how’ it is done. The European figures are similar.

What does this all mean?

In any review of corporate culture or the testing or benchmarking of the ethics and compliance programme, the survey report should be used to identify some of the areas to consider, incorporate or focus upon.

The IBE asks organisations to consider in particular:

  • Do ethics programmes focus enough on managers and setting ‘tone in the middle’ of organisations?
  • How are schemes to incentivise ethical behaviour designed? Are they achieving their intended purpose?
Lynsey Poulton

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