Ethics at Work: The Views of Employees


ethics at work

CIMG3017By Simon Webley

Employees are at the heart of ethical business. Their experience and attitudes towards ethics at work are vital in gauging to what extent ethics is indeed beginning to be embedded into business, so that it becomes ‘business as usual’ – ‘just the way we do things around here.’

The Institute of Businesss Ethics has been surveying employees about ethics at work in Britain since 2005, and in 2012 extended this research to four major continental European markets (France, Germany, Spain and Italy). The survey examines three strands – attitudes of employees to ethics at work; the experience of ethics at work; and the support of ethics at work.

The 2015 survey found, that a number of key metrics related to the experience of ethics in the workplace have fallen. Continental European employees are now:

  • Less likely to think that honesty is practiced either ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ in the daily operations of their organisation
  • More likely to have been aware of misconduct (behaviour by their employer or colleagues which they thought violated either the law or their organisation’s ethical standards) over the past year, and
  • Less likely to have raised their concerns with management, another appropriate person, or through any other mechanism.

Organisations which wish to encourage an ethical culture, must ensure that they provide guidance to staff in ‘doing the right thing’, usually in the first instance with a Code of Ethics, and also by providing training in ethics and how to deal with ethical issues, as well as a means to speak up about any ethical concerns and incentives for ethical behaviour.

Across all countries, the findings show that employees who are aware of each of these four elements of an ethics programme are more likely to say that honesty is practised more frequently, are less aware of misconduct and are more likely to speak up about their concerns when they become aware of misconduct. These results act as a proxy to show the benefits of investing in a formal ethics programme –  that employees who work in organisations with the ‘most supportive’ ethical cultures have the most positive experience of the ethical culture in which they work.

The IBE 2015 Ethics at Work Survey provides further evidence for the ‘business case’ for establishing a formal business ethics  programme.  The data shows that employees have a more positive experience of ethics in the workplace  in organisations which take ethics seriously.

I’ll be looking closer at the findings from the latest IBE survey and asking you – what do your employees think of business ethics?

Mr. Webley will be speaking at the 4th Annual European Compliance & Ethics Institute in Prague, Czech Republic. His session, “So, What Do Employees Really Think About Business Ethics? A Review of Recent IBE Reserach” will be held on Sunday, 20 March 2016 at 15:15 local time.

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