Unethical behaviour at work may reflect a blame culture with little trust or integrity

Unethical behaviour at work can reflect a blame culture In the same week Mind revealed that many workers are reluctant to admit to feeling stressed, comes data which shows high levels of unethical behaviour in Britain’s workplaces. And the two pieces of research are not unrelated. In a survey of over 1,600 managers by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), almost three quarters (72%) had witnessed employees lying to cover their mistakes, with the same number reporting their colleagues cut corners and delivered substandard work. A further 68% had seen people badmouthing team members behind their backs. The fault lies in workplaces that foster a blame culture, where staff are worried about owning up to mistakes. This causes undue stress and people taking a combative, rather than collaborative approach. The findings formed part of ILM’s The truth about trust’ report into trust and integrity in the UK workplace, which highlights the business benefits of high-trust high-integrity working environments.

ILM CEO Charles Elvin said: “While it’s important to deal with individual examples of bad behaviour, it’s also crucial to understand the root cause. If people are covering-up their mistakes, is this a sign of a blame culture that leaves people afraid to be honest?

“If people are routinely phoning in sick, is there an underpinning issue with stress and workload? In many cases these behaviours are symptomatic of wider cultural issues which once uncovered can be effectively addressed to improve morale and organisational performance and ultimately help to avert crises and better equip businesses for the future.”

Some other common examples of dishonest behaviour included passing the buck for poor performance (67%), slacking off when no one is watching (64%) and taking the credit for other people’s work (57%).

The research highlighted the importance of setting clear ethical guidelines for staff as instances of bad or unethical behaviour were significantly lower in organisations with a statement of ethical values in place. Organisations with a clear set of values were up to 11% less likely to experience unethical behaviour.

The top ten bad behaviours witnessed in the workplace were:

  • Cutting corners – 72%
  • Lying to hide your mistakes – 72%
  • Badmouthing colleagues – 68%
  • Passing the buck (when you don’t get your work done) – 67%
  • Slacking off when no one’s watching – 64%
  • Lying to hide other people’s mistakes – 63%
  • Taking credit for other people’s work – 57%
  • Taking a sickie – 56%
  • Lying about skills and experience – 54%
  • Taking low value items from work – 52%

Added Elvin: “At a time when organisations are bending over backwards to demonstrate their ethical credentials, we were surprised to see just how endemic some of these bad behaviours are in the workplace. Even relatively minor misdemeanours, if left unchecked, can poison a workplace culture and bring down trust and ethical standards across the workforce.”

The study highlighted the importance of trust in enabling organisations to raise ethical standards. In high trust organisations people can own up to and talk about ethical breaches without fear, rather than hiding them from their colleagues.

This was borne out in the results, those organisations where staff reported the highest levels of trust were also most likely to own up to their bad behaviours, meaning issues can be identified much earlier and dealt with before they become a more serious problem.