Ethics Hotlines and Millennials

The generation group often called “Millennials” or Gen Y consists of people born between 1980 and 2000, roughly.  They are currently in their early teens to early thirties, and will soon represent close to fifty percent of the workforce.

In Generational Differences in Workplace Ethics, a recent report by the Ethics Resource Center, we learn that these young workers are more susceptible to experiencing ethical dilemmas on the job than other population groups (Gen X, Boomers, and Traditionalists.)

As the youngest workers, the study reports, they are more likely than their older colleagues to feel pressure by others to break the rules. The more pressure employees feel, the more likely they are to engage in misconduct. In addition, this generation reports higher rates of retaliation for reporting misconduct.

At the same time Millennials are more likely to “shine the light on” misconduct than young workers in previous years, and are more likely than their older cohorts to utilize the resources of ethics and compliance offices. They are also more likely to respond to the elements of ethics and compliance programs that include social interaction and provision of support, to include helplines, mechanisms for seeking advice, and training. They are also somewhat more likely than other generations to report to a hotline. (ERC, 2013)

These findings are not surprising, given what we know about this generation and what it wants from the workplace: coaching, collaboration, rubric (the rules), and fun. (Spiegel, 2011) Having clear rules for employees to follow is especially important for this generation because they are the most tolerant of behavior in “grey” areas, where rules are not clearly defined

What does this mean for human resources and ethics and compliance offices? It’s generally true that businesses that build on a strong ethics culture and have in place robust ethics and compliance programs observe lower levels of misconduct, higher levels of reporting, and lower levels of retaliation against reporters. However there are generational differences that affect how best to communicate these efforts.

Again from the ERC report, the best way to emphasize ethics to Millennials is to:

  • Communicate the company’s commitment to ethics in terms of people, relationships and integrity in the way people treat each other;
  • Focus on messaging from colleagues and immediate supervisors – those individuals who are more local to Millennials and therefore more likely to be influential to them;
  • Build opportunities for discussion and interaction into ethics and compliance training programs;
  • Provide ways for Millennials to give input into company standards and systems;
  • Emphasize the resources of the ethics/compliance program as opportunities to interact with knowledgeable people who can provide guidance and support; and
  • Communicate that when employees report misconduct, they can check back and interact with the appropriate ethics or human resources office throughout the investigations process.

Employee hotlines are one element of a strong ethics and compliance program.  They provide anonymous access to knowledgeable people who can provide a level of guidance and support.  They also facilitate effective follow-up and investigation.  Please contact the professionals at Ethical Advocate if you would like additional information.

By focusing on what’s important to this young generation of workers, businesses can maximize the impact of all the elements of their ethics and compliance programs.


Ethics Resource Center (ERC). Generational Differences in Workplace Ethics, 2013.

Spiegel, Diane. “Why Hiring Millennials is Good for your Business”, American Express Open Forum blog, July 20, 2011.