Bosses most likely to lie at work, while still promoting an ethical culture

Bosses tell most lies

Business has been fighting a PR battle in recent years to convince us that ethics and corporate social responsibility is of equal importance to the bottom line. However, when it comes to individual behaviour it seems that managers are far from practising what their employers’ preach. Bosses are  much more likely than other staff to ditch ethics to get ahead in their career (29.4% compared to 13.3%), yet at the same time are more likely than other staff to think it is important to be seen as ethical at work (66.4% compared to 54.0%). According to the research from CMI (Chartered Management Institute) 35.4 per cent of managers bend the truth once a day or more, compared to 25.3 per cent of other workers.

When quizzed on why they behave unethically, managers are most likely to put this down to job progression being more important than behaving morally (cited by 41.2%), with other workers were most likely to say they felt pressured into working in an unethical way (42.6%).

Telling white lies are an integral part of UK workplace culture, with almost one in three workers (30.4%), or nine million people, reporting they tell at least one white lie a day at work. Just 6.8 per cent of workers describe themselves as unethical, but this isn’t backed up by the views of their colleagues. 60.1 per cent of workers say they have witnessed colleagues acting unethically to get ahead at work, with managers more likely to be spotted doing so than junior staff (60.6% compared to 26.4%).

Ann Francke, CMI Chief Executive, says: “When it comes to integrity, leading by example is key so managers need to re-focus on principles, not personal gain. We’ve seen company after company fall foul of ethical scandals and the costs can be huge – not only financially, but in the damage that’s done to hard-won reputations. It’s time for employers to step up and confront unethical behaviour and commit to developing management cultures where strong ethics are rewarded.”

The figures show UK workers struggle to negotiate a moral maze when they get to work:

  • Most don’t think their manager sets a good moral example (80.1%)
  • When faced with an ethical dilemma at work, one in five people (18.9%) tackle it by following rules or guidelines
  • 10.3 per cent help themselves to company stock for personal purposes

With managers failing to set a positive example, today’s research also shows workers are confused about where to turn for guidance. Just 17 per cent say they’re aware their company has a values statement and they know what is in it, 21 per cent don’t know if a values statement exists, and, for 24.0 per cent, there is no formal values guidance in place. More positively, 40.3 per cent of employees believe setting ethical standards at work is the responsibility of every employee, rather than just up to managers or the CEO.

Francke continues: “Trust is key to getting the best from people and creating the right culture for business growth – yet most staff distrust their boss’s sense of ethics. No wonder their moral compass can end up pointing in the wrong direction. Organisations have to set clear standards for their employees, and managers have a particular responsibility to take the lead.”

CMI is calling on managers to make a start with three simple steps:

  • Lose the lies: foster a culture of openness and transparency. Be honest and acknowledge when mistakes are made – but commit to resolving them quickly and decisively.
  • Champion accountability: reward people for doing the ‘right thing’, particularly if it would have been easier for them to do otherwise. Hold people to account where standards slip.
  • Set standards: use common standards so everyone can be clear about the conduct that’s expected of them. Communicate clearly and check you’ve been understood.

The challenge is to get wholesale buy in to this approach, so CMI is inviting managers and non-managers alike to tell them what they think a definitive Management Code of Conduct should include; get involved in their consultation at