Workplace Misconduct hits historic low

by |
Unethical behavior in the workplace has reached its lowest point since 1994, a survey by the Ethics Resource Center reveals. Of more than 6,400 workers polled, 41% said they observed workplace misconduct, down from 55% seven years ago.

“It seems likely that the severity of the recession and the relatively soft recovery have taken a toll on workers’ confidence and tempered risk-taking on the job,” says ERC president Patricia Harned. “A key question for the future is what happens to misconduct rates when economic growth becomes more robust and widespread.”

“We found that 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.”

To avoid a weak culture that fosters dishonesty, try these tips:

Train managers to lead by example If employees don’t trust their supervisors to be honest, it’s unlikely they will reciprocate with honest behavior. “When managers aren't transparent in their actions – and that includes accepting responsibility for errors, being truthful with their employees and acknowledging hard work – that tends to breed mistrust among employees,” says Andrew Graham, CEO of The Forum Corporation in Boston. Graham’s research shows more than three-quarters of managers refrain from honestly admitting to mistakes for fear of appearing incompetent.

Celebrate failure Take a leaf out of the book of Dun & Bradstreet CEO Jeff Stibel, who started what he calls a ‘failure wall’. By encouraging employees to write their mistakes in permanent marker beside his own, he allows people to be honest and move forward.

Connect individuals’ daily work with overall benefits Research from the University of Washington shows people who get away with dishonesty are likely to feel upbeat about it, unless there is a tangible detriment to somebody else. “When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behavior,” says the study’s lead author, Nicole Ruedy. “Our study reveals people actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn’t directly harm someone else.” The solution? Ensure employees understand how their day-to-day actions affect themselves and those around them. This could be by means of employee stock ownership, performance-based bonuses, or simply a policy of financial transparency.

You might also like:
How to manage employees when your company has an ethical scandal
You don’t have to be a transformational leader
How to create a mentor culture at your organization

HRD America forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions