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Major ethics survey says just a third who see misconduct would report it to their boss

by Lewis Panther SA FIN | 27 Nov 2018

Just a third of people who have witnessed misconduct at work have reported it,  a major study into ethical behaviour has found.

The findings of the first Institute of Business Ethics survey of Australia and New Zealand suggests the majority of employees think they are working at an honest organisation.

But the fact that a significant number would not report misconduct was described as the “most alarming statistic”.

The Ethics at Work survey of 752 Australian workers found one in four - 24 per cent - have been aware of misconduct during the past year at work. 

Yet 35 per cent of those workers decided not to speak up. 

Of those, 32 per cent said they felt speaking up might jeopardise their job. Another 27 per cent did not believe that corrective action would be taken. 

A quarter felt that it was already known about - and almost as many said: “I felt it was none of my business.”

Ethics Centre Executive Director Dr Simon Longstaff said: “The most alarming statistic to be reported is that, having witnessed misconduct, just over a third of employees chose not to speak up.

“This means the ethical foundations of Australian corporations are weaker than the glossy superstructure would suggest. The ethical superstructure of many corporations may be but on straw.

“The need to remediate this weakness has been one of the central themes highlighted by regulators and royal commissions.”

Ethics Centre Co‐Head of Advice and Education John O’Neil added: “These results reveal that many Australians don’t trust that the current systems for speaking up against unethical behaviour are there to support them, and are choosing to stay quiet or compromise their own values”.

The most common types of misconduct were bullying and harassment, which stood at 41 per cent, followed by inappropriate or unethical treatment of people, which was 39 per cent and misreporting of working hours - 32 per cent.

While 84 per cent of those surveyed said honesty was practised regularly at work, 14 er cent said it only happened on rare occasions.

IBE Director Philippa Foster Back CBE said that the fact employees did not speak up because they did not think it was any of their business was the most worrying revelation.

“Set against the backdrop of the current business environment, it is interesting to see how employees in Australia view ethics at their place of work,” she said.

“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.”

Other findings from the survey which started in the UK in 2005 and has been carried out every three years - spreading to a total of 12 countries for this year’s publication - include:-

  • Awareness of right and wrong in everyday choices. 
    The majority of surveyed participants are clear on right or wrong everyday workplace behaviours with 67 per cent saying taking pencils and pens from work is unacceptable, 52 per cent rating personal internet use during work hours as unacceptable.
  • Honesty at work
    Older employees - aged 55-plus - are more likely than other age groups to say honesty is practised always/frequently.
  • Pressure to compromise the organisation’s ethical standards
    Around 1 in 10 (13 per cent) of employees say they have felt pressured to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards. The five most common reasons employees felt pressured to compromise on their organisation’s ethical standards are time pressure (34 per cent), following the boss’s orders (31 per cent), under‐resourcing (23 per cent), peer pressure to be a team player (23 per cent) or to meet unrealistic objectives or deadlines (21 per cent).

When compared to the UK and New Zealand on acceptable workplace practices like taking pencils, using the internet for personal use or charging personal entertainment to expenses Australia only comes out at the bottom - when it comes to taking a sickie.

A fifth of Australians think it is justifiable to pretend to be sick to have a day off.

Download the full reports at


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