Corporate corruption on the declineNews added by Benefits Pro on February 11, 2014

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Joined: September 07, 2011

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By Dan Cook

Bad behavior in the workplace is on the decline, although the incidence of unethical practices, and the practices themselves, remains a troubling aspect of U.S. corporate culture.

That’s the conclusion from an extensive survey on corporate ethics by the Ethics Resource Center, which digested input from 6,579 responses (mostly in the for-profit sector) to questions about corruption on the job.

The best news from the 2013 National Business Ethics Survey is that observed corruption at work is trending down over time. The 41 percent of employees (bosses and worker bees) who said they observed corruption happening at work is, in the context of the ERC’s survey, an all-time low. Pressure to bend the rules, as reported by respondents, fell from 13 percent in 2011 to 9 percent.

On the not-so-sunny side of the results, managers were cited as the most frequent abusers of ethical standards. Bribing of vendors and politicians were reported to be the most common in the ongoing rule-breaking arena. And retaliation against whistleblowers nearly doubled from 2007’s 12 percent to 2013’s 21 percent.

“While misconduct overall is on the decline, the nature of these misdeeds is alarming,” ERC President Patricia Harned said. “A strong majority of misconduct is attributable to individuals who hold some level of management responsibility. If allowed to persist, rule-breaking by managers bodes ill for ethics cultures, because managers set the tone for everyone else.”

No single form of misbehavior dominated the responses.

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“Just nine of 28 specific forms of misconduct we asked about in NBES 2013 were witnessed by 10 percent or more of the employees surveyed,” the researchers reported. “Abusive behavior, which was observed by 18 percent of workers, headed that list. Lying to employees, at 17 percent, was the second most frequent form of wrongdoing. Discrimination was observed by 12 percent of employees, and seven percent said they had observed sexual harassment at work

When asked about the bad conduct by bosses, responsible for 60 percent of observed ethical breaches, respondents had this to say:

“Abusive or intimidating behavior and violations of Internet policy (by managers) were the forms of misconduct most likely to be ongoing, according to 37 percent and 40 percent, respectively, of those who observed each.

Among other highlights of this good-news/bad-news survey:
  • The percentage of workers who said they observed misconduct on the job fell to an all-time low of 41 percent in 2013, down from 45 percent two years ago and a record high of 55 percent six years ago.
  • The improvement was pervasive. Over the last two years, observed misconduct fell in every one of the 26 specific categories we asked about in both NBES 2011 and NBES 2013.
  • Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of observed misdeeds involved senior managers.
  • Workers reported that 60 percent of misconduct involved someone with managerial authority from the supervisory level up to top management.
  • 26 percent of misconduct is ongoing within their organization.
  • About 12 percent of wrongdoing was reported to take place company-wide.
  • Employees said 41 percent of observed misconduct was committed by multiple people and 12 percent was identified as “company-wide,” suggesting that the bad behavior was deeply rooted in the organization.
In sum, ERC said: “Companies’ investments in ethics and compliance are paying off, but there remains room for improvement. The data show just enough negative results to suggest that progress is not necessarily irreversible – especially if a revitalized economy arouses workers’ willingness to engage in riskier behavior. It is clear that manager behavior could be improved, and that reducing retaliation is essential. Building strong ethics cultures remains a constant work in progress.”

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