Ethics Resource Center Report Says Unethical Behavior Has NOT Increased

A devastated American economy did not translate into an increase in unethical behavior at U.S. companies, according to a new study from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC).  Although the ERC’s 2009 National Business Ethics Survey report found that retaliation against employees who reported misconduct has increased slightly since a similar survey two years earlier, most other measures of ethical behavior improved.  According to the report:

  • Overall misconduct at U.S. workplaces is down. Fewer employees said they had witnessed misconduct on the job. This measure fell from 56 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2009.
  • Whistle-blowing has increased. Most workers—63 percent—who observed misconduct said that they reported it. That’s up from 58 percent two years earlier.
  • Ethical culture appears to be stronger. ERC’s measures of the strength of the ethical culture in the workplace increased from 53 percent in 2007 to 62 percent in 2009.
  • Pressure to cut corners has decreased. Overall, employees who perceived pressure to commit an ethics violation—to cut corners, or worse—declined slightly, from 10 percent in 2007 to 8 percent in the latest survey.
  • Perceived retaliation as a result of a report of misconduct rose, from 12 to 15 percent, over the two years.

However, the ERC report sounds a warning: “The lesson for organizations is that when more settled, prosperous times return, misconduct is likely to creep upward again” as the sense of crisis dissipates.

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