6 January 2012

The US National Business Ethics Survey results were released today. This is the seventh survey in the series. The Ethics Resource Center which conducted the survey, provided the question-set used for the New Zealand State Services Integrity Surveys in 2007 and 2010.

The NBES relates to the private sector. Reponses from officials were excluded (presumably to be included later in the National Government Ethics Survey series.) The data was gathered in September 2011 from 4,800 respondents, a third by telephone interview. (There were 8238 responses to the 2010 State Services Integrity Survey.)

The findings show stronger trends since 2009 than the comparable 2007 and 2010 State Services Integrity Surveys. A rebound in ethical work behaviour is identified although the report describes a “bificated” pattern unlike previous surveys. In effect there is pressure on standards caused by the economic situation, but the employment implications of misconduct constrain “bad actors”.

The survey explores increasing discussion about business practices in social media and organisational reactions to this form of whistleblowing. These areas of concern did not feature in the New Zealand survey.

There are a number of factors that the 2011 NBES has in common with the 2010 NZ survey.

Where direct comparisons can be made, the same types of misconduct remain most prevalent;

  • Abusive and intimidating behaviour     US 21%      NZ 38%
  • Lying to  employees                                  US 20%      NZ 20%
  • Improper use of internet / email             US 16%      NZ 24%

Respondents regard this type of misconduct as less serious and are less inclined to report it, than behaviour of a more criminal nature, but which is seen less frequently, such as;

  • Theft                                                                    US 12%      NZ 4%
  • Sexual harassment                                        US 11%      NZ 5%
  • Inappropriate payments, perks, gifts          US  4%       NZ 4%

A particular concern reported by the Ethics Resource Center is that ethical cultures are not strengthening. “The way things are done around here” is not improving, with 7% more employees saying that their business has a weak ethical culture. This is shown also by;

  • a 7% increase ( to 22% ) in employees who reported misconduct then experienced retaliation
  • a 5 increase ( to 13% ) in employees reporting a perceived pressure to compromise standards in order to do their jobs.

The concern is that as the US economy gets better, and companies and their employees become more optimistc about their financial futures, misconduct will rise.