Has the recession made companies loosen their ethical standards? A lot of rank-and-file employees seem to think so.
The most recent biannual survey from the Ethics Resource Center indicates that 47% of employees said their company culture had “weak ethics.” That’s the highest level since 2000 — and a jump of 7% in two years.
What’s more, the percentage of employees who perceived pressure to compromise standards in order to do their jobs climbed five points from 2009, to 13%.
Fewer workers believe senior leadership is committed to ethical conduct, according to the survey. Four in 10 survey participants said their direct supervisors don’t display ethical behavior.
Just what sort of wrongdoing are employees saying they’ve witnessed? Here’s a rundown from the survey:
- Misuse of company time, 33%
- Abusive behavior, 21%
- Lying to employees, 20%, and
- Misusing or wasting company resources, 20%.
Those are the milder malfeasances. The more serious offenses reported by employees:
- health and safety violations, 13%
- stealing, 12%
- substance abuse, 11%, and
- sexual harassment, 11%.
The good news is, 65% of employees who witnessed wrongdoing reported it. The bad news: More than one in five said they’d been punished in retaliation for having done so.
An HR opportunity
What’s all this mean to HR?
It means HR pros’ jobs are tougher than ever. Because while loosening ethical standards may indeed be effective — in increasing productivity or profitability — there’s invariably a price to pay down the road.
An overall lack of ethics in a company culture fosters an atmosphere of distrust, encourages employees to protect their little “fiefdoms” and tends to promote the formation of cliques.
Worst of all, the best employees don’t want to work for companies that have no ethical standards.
So when a company allows a tight economy to loosen its overall standards and values, it’s likely pushing its best people out the door.
HR pros are the prime candidates to communicate with upper management on the strategic importance of a company-wide Code of Ethics.
Because in the long run, employees want to work for companies that do what’s right, not just what’s profitable.