Ethics At Work

Employee views are a key indicator of the

ethical temperature in today’s organisations.

–Institute of Business Ethics

What your employees think about your organization’s ethical business practices, what kinds of behavior they consider to be ethical, and how they feel about the support they receive for “doing the right thing” are all indicators of the organization’s ethical culture.

The U.K.’s Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) has conducted four surveys of employee views about organizational ethics since 2008, initially surveying British employees, but in 2012 expanding the survey to include five countries in continental Europe. Although employee attitudes in Britain and Europe may differ somewhat from attitudes in the U.S., the results offer food for thought for all employers.

The 2015 IBE survey found five overarching themes.

Employee awareness of corporate ethics programs increases ethical awareness and perceptions of ethical culture.

IBE found that as employees have become more aware of elements of an ethics program their expectations of their organizations are higher than before. However, nearly half of employees are not willing to raise their concerns about misconduct. Of those that did speak up, the proportion who say that they were not satisfied with the outcome has doubled (to 61%).  Employers need to address this latter concern, because if employees do not believe that something will be done when they raise issues, they may stop raising them.

Younger employees (those aged 16-34) expect more from the organizations for which they work than older employees (55+) do.

More specifically, younger employees are more likely to be aware of and engaged with elements of the ethics program but they are less likely to agree with statements related to responsible business conduct. According to IBE, this indicates they expect their employers to have an increasingly external outlook on the way that business is conducted.

Attitudes of employees tend to be more lenient towards conducting personal activities during work hours than other potentially unethical practices, although a majority of employees still found such activities to be unethical.

IBE concludes that this may be indicative of the increasingly blurred lines between work and home, which is not necessarily negative for an organization.

Employees in continental Europe are more sensitive to ethical issues in the workplace than they were in 2012.

Simultaneously, the proportion of employees in Europe who have felt pressured to compromise their organization’s ethical standards has decreased, suggesting that more employees are able to identify misconduct, even when they are not involved.

Managers in continental Europe have greater knowledge and awareness of the elements of corporate ethics programs than do non-managers, suggesting there is still work to be done in embedding such programs across all levels of employees.

More specifically, all levels of employees report similar awareness of codes of ethics, but managers report a higher level of awareness of such ethics program components as ethics hotlines, advice or information helplines, ethics training initiatives, and incentives to encourage ethical behavior.

It seems clear that employee awareness is a crucial factor in the success of organizational ethics programs and employee views offer a mirror into organizational ethics culture. Surveys such as this one provide insight and food for thought as organizations seek to review, adjust, and enhance their ethics initiatives.

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Please contact us for additional information.



“Corporate whistleblowing arrangements are not working effectively, IBE survey shows,” Institute of Business Ethics press release, November 11, 2015.

Johnson, Daniel. “Ethics at Work 2015 Survey of Employees: Main Findings and Themes,” November 2015.