Half face ethical dilemmas at work


Junior managers particularly report discomfort with being asked to make unethical decisions or with witnessing poor treatment of colleagues

Over half (55%) have witnessed or been asked to do things at work which caused them unease, according to research from A Blueprint for Better Business.

The poll of 1,000 UK workers found that while many have been made to feel uncomfortable by unethical or disrespectful behaviour or instructions, few were able to articulate their unease or find ways to change the situation.

Almost half (48%) said that they would voice their concern but then undertake the activity regardless. More women than men would suggest an alternative action, with 36% of women stating that they would do this versus 30% of men.

“Feeling uncomfortable at work can often arise from a perceived lack of fairness or respect for people – such as following an instruction to squeeze a vulnerable supplier and so unfairly exploiting their weaker position, or finding ourselves lacking the courage to speak up when a colleague makes an inappropriate comment or blatantly ignores someone’s valuable contribution,” Charles Wookey, CEO of A Blueprint for Better Business, told HR magazine.

“Sometimes it’s what we are asked to do, other times it’s what we witness or overhear which makes us uneasy," he added.

The issue was most pronounced at junior management level, where 12% reported regularly being asked to do things they found uncomfortable. Additionally 54% were 'sometimes asked.'

Junior managers were however found to be the least listened to, with 31% saying that their business makes little or no effort to hear a wide range of opinions from within the business, and 29% reporting that the business makes little or no effort to factor in opinions from outside of the business.

This experience often prompted employees to look for a new role. Around one in eight (15%) respondents said that they had changed jobs due to behaviours and actions in the workplace which made them uncomfortable, while a further 34% have been tempted.

Wookey said that employees need to be better supported to raise concerns. “This poll highlights some worryingly common traits of business life, showing that we often find it hard to deal with situations which make us feel uncomfortable,” he said. “While there are of course huge differences in how employees experience these challenges, we would all benefit from being better supported to talk about difficult topics that may cause us unease, and feel empowered to call out decisions or behaviour that make us uncomfortable.

“However, leadership teams could be doing more to support their future leaders, and to demonstrate how company purpose can be brought to life with everyday actions at work.”

He added: "The best businesses know that fairness and respect lie at the heart of long-term success.”