UK employees less ethical than European counterparts

UK employees seem to take a more lenient approach than the average European employee to questionable workplace practices, according to a survey by the Institute of Business Ethics which found that 38% believe petty fiddling is inevitable in a modern organisation compared to 30% of their European counterparts

The survey sought to establish whether employees are able to identify ethical issues relating to everyday choices that they might have to face in the workplace and whether they apply ethical values to their decision-making.  Respondents to this survey were presented with nine common work-related scenarios and were asked whether or not they considered them acceptable.

Pretending to be sick to take a day off; minor fiddling/exaggeration of travel expenses and charging personal entertainment to expenses are considered the most unacceptable practices in the UK, in line with views from employees across Europe.

However, a higher percentage of UK respondents said these practices are acceptable. One of these issues (making personal phone calls from work) is considered acceptable by more than half of UK respondents (53%) – the first time in the history of the survey that any issues has been reported as acceptable by more than 50% of UK respondents.

Philippa Foster Back, IBE’s director, said: ‘Although some of these issues may seem trivial, respondents’ answers are an important indicator of changes in acceptability of practices, as well as where employees’ ethical boundaries lie. Employees either ignoring or being unable to identify the ethical dimensions of a specific situation increases the ethics risk for organisations.’

In addition, 31% of UK respondents agreed with the statement ‘ if we cracked down on every little fiddle we would soon find we had no staff’, compared to the European average of 28%.

Over a quarter of UK replies (27%) also agreed that ‘as long as I come in on time and within budget I am not going to worry about a bit of petty fiddling’, whereas the European average was 19%. More UK respondents (15%) than European (13%) agreed that ’it is acceptable to artificially increase profits in the books as long as no money is stolen.’

The survey found that one in eight (12%) respondents in the UK say that they have felt some form of pressure to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards (compared with 16% across Europe), but the UK figure has increased from 8% in 2015. For UK employees, the main source of pressure to compromise ethical standards comes from being under-resourced.

Foster Back said: ‘Although we see this increase in pressure across other countries surveyed, this is particularly relevant to the UK as we are about to enter a period of uncertainty regarding Brexit.

‘Employees are under more stress to deliver than ever before, and this is increasing the pressure to then cut ethical corners. These figures should be seen as a warning sign to organisations that they need to be more supportive of their employees when it comes to making ethical decisions.’

A quarter (24%) of UK employees said they have been aware of misconduct, which is below the European average of 30%. However, the overall percentage of UK employees who have been aware of misconduct is the highest it has been since 2005.

Two thirds (67%) of those who had witnessed misconduct had raised their concerns compared with the European average of 54%. This is a 12 percentage point increase from the UK’s 2015 figure and shows an increased willingness of employees to raise concerns.

Ethics at Work 2018 survey of employees United Kingdom is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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