The National Business Ethics Survey of the U.S. Workforce

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on February 4, 2014

“On behalf of the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), we are delighted to share the National Business Ethics Survey® (NBES®) for 2013. We are now in our 19th year of the NBES series, which has become the pre eminent source of information about workplace conduct and ethics through  the eyes of employees themselves. Invariably, the results provide some surprises and usually some elements that confound us, and this year is no exception. We are happy to be able to announce that the amount of misconduct declined substantially for the third straight survey and is now at the lowest point since we began investigating it. We were somewhat surprised by this good news – given that our previous survey showed that both retaliation against workers who reported misconduct and pressure to compromise standards were at all-time highs, which strongly suggested that misconduct was poised to go up. In addition, based on past patterns, the run up in stock price indices over the past two years should have been accompanied by a rise in misconduct.The disconnect between workers’ actual conduct and these traditionally reliable leading indicators caused us to delve more deeply to see if we could figure out what has changed. Our main conclusion is that NBES 2013 is telling us that ethics and compliance (E&C) programs work. Business organizations’ deep and long standing investment in E&C is paying dividends and may be fostering a fundamental change in worker behavior. Optimistically, we think we may be witnessing the emergence of a new workplace norm in which workers are predisposed to adhere to high standards of conduct and honor the rules. Having said that, while misconduct overall is on the decline, the nature of these misdeeds is alarming. A strong majority of misconduct is attributable to individuals who hold some level of management responsibility. If allowed to persist, rule-breaking by managers bodes ill for ethics cultures, because managers set the tone for everyone else. The data also show that a significant amount of misconduct happens on a continuing basis and about 12 percent of it takes place company-wide.”

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