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One in eight pressured to compromise ethical standards


One in eight (12%) UK employees have felt pressure to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards, according to the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE)?

This was up from 8% in 2015, its Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees found. The main source of pressure came from being under-resourced, the survey noted.

The research explored employees' perceptions of ethics in the workplace. It compared the findings for UK workers with those for the wider European workforce, covering respondents in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

More than half (53%) of UK workers thought it was acceptable to make personal phone calls at work compared to 47% of European workers. Pretending to be sick to take the day off work was also deemed acceptable by 14% of UK workers, while just 9% of European workers felt this way. The same figures were recorded for minor fiddling of travel expenses (14% for the UK and 9% for Europe).

Director at the IBE Philippa Foster Back, said that while such behaviours may not seem damaging, they offer important insights into employees’ sense of ethics.

“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,” she said.

Foster Back added that these findings are particularly significant as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, adding that mounting stress among the UK workforce could lead to employees behaving unethically.

“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,” she said.

However, while the overall percentage of UK employees who have been aware of misconduct is the highest it has been since 2005 at 24%, more encouragingly, this stands lower than that of European workers at 30%.

Additionally, two-thirds (67%) of UK workers who witnessed misconduct had also raised their concerns, compared to just 54% of European workers. This is a 12 percentage point increase from the UK’s 2015 figure, suggesting an increased willingness among employees to raise ethical concerns.

Foster Black added that campaigns such as #MeToo demonstrate that UK workers are beginning to speak out.

“Global movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are having ramifications throughout the workplace, not just in terms of people speaking up about harassment, but in feeling empowered to raise concerns about other issues," she said. "We hope that this is the beginning of speaking up being seen as business as usual.”

The survey was completed by a total of 6,119 respondents across the eight European countries. It was comprised of a representative sample of around 750 working adults in each country aged 18 and over.