42 per cent of employees have witnessed misconduct at work

But one-half did not report it: Survey

Forty-two per cent of working Canadians have witnessed misconduct at their current employer, according to a survey released by ClearView Strategic Partners, an ethics reporting/whistleblowing and advisory services firm.

The types of misconduct witnessed are:

• misuse of company property (28 per cent)

• harm to employees (25 per cent)

• privacy violations (17 per cent)

• fraud (17 per cent)

• conflicts of interest (13 per cent)

• environmental violations (12 per cent)

• misrepresentation of financial results (11 per cent)

• bribery or corruption (nine per cent).

"Senior business leaders should use these results to take a long, hard look at the ethics within their organizations, and determine ways they can improve their programs and strengthen their ethical cultures," said Phil Enright, president and CEO of ClearView. "Wrongdoing can negatively impact your organization's reputation and financial well-being, while a strong ethical culture can positively impact your organization's performance and reduce risk."

One-half (48 per cent) of the people who witnessed workplace misconduct did not report it, found the survey of the 1,054 respondents. Their reluctance or inability to speak up about wrongdoing may be linked to a lack of faith that investigations will be conducted properly (69 per cent), a belief disciplinary measures will not be applied consistently (66 per cent) or because many fear retaliation or negative consequences as a result of reporting (23 per cent).

"Understanding why over 40 per cent of respondents witnessed misconduct, but almost half did not report it, should lead to remedies, improved preventative measures, and a reduction in unethical behaviour," said Leonard Brooks, professor of business ethics and accounting at the University of Toronto.

"Understanding the nature of the misconduct witnessed is also essential to effective governance. Directors, corporate executives and senior management of organizations, who cannot personally interact with many employees, need to ensure that their corporate culture is supportive of concerned employees who want to improve and protect their company. This is just sound risk management."

Employees are under tremendous pressure to compromise ethical standards to achieve their goals, found the survey. One in three felt that delivering results was more important than doing the right thing while 22 per cent felt they had to compromise their personal ethics to keep their job.

There are a number of things organizations can do to improve ethics, said Enright: set up strong incentives to act with integrity; improve confidence in investigation and disciplinary systems; and protect employees who wish to report misconduct by eliminating retaliation and providing secure, confidential and anonymous reporting channels.

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