Workers say honesty is best company policy
Nine in 10 employees say they value integrity as much as income. Will this lead to a new US bottom line
Despite an image popularized in films and on TV of corporations as seething caldrons of impropriety and greed, ethics in business may actually be on the rise.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Employee expectations for their company's integrity is high. A vast majority Americans say they want to work for a company whose honesty they respect, even if it interferes with the bottom line.
"There has been major progress," says Michael Daigneault, president of the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) in Washington, which conducted a comprehensive survey released this week. "US businesses are paying increasing attention to workplace ethics. And for employees, ethics rule."
Some of the major findings:
*Nine out of 10 workers polled say they value integrity as much as income, while the number who feel pressured to do the wrong thing has been more than halved since 1994.
*The number of employees reporting that their companies have a written code of ethics increased from 6 in 10 to almost 8 in 10 since the last survey in 1994.
*The number of employees who say their companies provide ethics training rose from 33 percent in 1994 to 67 percent in 2000.
But as is so often the case, intent and action don't always mesh. About 1 in 3 of the 1,500 employees surveyed also said they observed misconduct at work in the past year, and more than 2 in 5 of those did not report it. They feared being labeled a snitch or a troublemaker. And many of those who dialed so-called "ethics 800 numbers" were dissatisfied with the company's response. Another study released this week by KPMG professional services found that the number of employees witnessing wrongdoing at work was as high as 7 in 10.
Workplace ethics, which covers everything from bribing a foreign official to e-mailing a mistress, is inherently difficult to quantify. For that reason, Mr. Daigneault and his fellow researchers at ERC are circumspect when it comes to linking the growth of ethics efforts with actual results and declaring victory in the war on foul play.
But there is no denying the flowering of ethics in corporate consciousness. The Conference Board estimates US firms have invested more than $1 billion in ethics programs in the past decade. The Ethics Officers Association has grown from 60 members in 1991 to 700 members today.
Patrick Gnazzo, vice president for business practices at United Technologies Corp., has little doubt that ethics programs are proving successful. "Yes, ethics in business are getting better - for one primary reason. When you put in compliance programs because the law forces you to ... part of those programs will be controls on the system. If you manage those controls well, the amount of dollars that can be used for slush funds is much more difficult to get through the system."
Experts in the field of corporate ethics are virtually unanimous in citing implementation of Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987 as the catalyst for, if not the birth of, compliance and ethics programs in corporate America. Driven by Congress and imposed by federal courts, the sentencing guidelines replaced a largely discretionary punitive system.