Majority of managers have seen their morals tested during their career

More than three fifths of managers have been expected to behave unethically at some point in their career, research finds.

Furthermore, 9 per cent of managers have been asked to break the law at work at some point in their career, while one in ten have left their jobs as a result of being asked to do something that made them feel uncomfortable.

This is in spite of 77 per cent of managers believing that, since 2008, the general public’s expectations of UK organisations’ ethical behaviour has risen.

In the survey of some 1,000 managers published by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and Business in the Community (BITC), 93 per cent say their organisation has a values statement but more than two fifths (43 per cent) have been pressured to behave in direct violation of it.

Some 12 per cent of managers say that the correlation between employee behaviour and company values was not close ‘at all’ in their workplace.

In addition, 27 per cent of respondents are concerned their career would suffer if they were to report an ethical breach, with whistleblowing fears higher amongst more junior managers (17 per cent of whom were certain of experiencing negative consequences) than directors (9 per cent).

Charles Elvin, chief executive of the ILM says, ‘Business ethics have come under increased public scrutiny in recent years, but our research highlights just how many people are still facing ethical conflicts at work.

‘As well as damaging a company’s reputation, we see that ethical failings can have a negative impact on employee happiness, loyalty and trust in their organisation.’

Elvin adds that not all ethical decisions will be black and white, but an explicit and consistent set of values which are embedded within the organisation and reflected across all of its actions – from strategic decisions down to day-to-day activities – will lay the foundations for ethical behaviour.

‘Leaders and managers, including those at more junior levels, have a crucial role to play in communicating their organisation’s values and should be given the support they need to enable cultural change.’

Stephen Howard, chief executive of BITC adds, ‘Cultural change is not something that can be instilled in organisations overnight, but this research indicates where some of the key pressure points lie.

‘Responsible leaders must make sure the managers throughout their organisation are involved in the creation of values and understand how those values apply to their day to day work. Otherwise they cannot be sure the values as written are the ones that are lived, exposing their organisation to potential ethical breaches and reputational risk.’

Related: UK managers ditch workplace ethics to get ahead

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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