Millenials Redefining Ethics in the Workplace

July 9, 2010 ( - American workers between the ages of 18 and 29 (Millennials) have more in common with older co-workers when it comes to workplace ethics than often thought, but they also hold to some values that set them apart from their Baby Boomer counterparts, according to a newly released report.

A survey by the Ethics Resource Center shows that pressure to commit misconduct on the job is experienced at a similar rate among employees of all generations. Likewise, employees who witness misconduct and report it are likely to experience the same rate of retaliation regardless of age.  

However, although the survey found Millenials are more likely than other generations to observe misconduct, they are less likely to report it and are more often the culprits of misconduct. They are also less likely to have a positive impression of their employer’s ethical culture.  

Millenials also seem to have their own take on what constitutes ethical misconduct. For example, Millennial employees are less likely to observe employee privacy breaches than their elder coworkers, but more likely to observe discrimination. According to the report, while it is possible that the differences in observation are the result of differences in incidence, it is likely that sensitivity also is a factor.   

Growing up with greater acceptance of different races and cultures makes Millennial employees keenly attuned to discriminatory behavior, but growing up in the Internet age means they are less likely to take note of breaches of privacy.  

Millennial workers are the least likely to find it acceptable to give a cold shoulder to someone for reporting an edgy joke (8%, vs. 11% each for Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers).   

In addition, 12% of Millennials said they believe it is acceptable to post negative comments about their employer on blogs or Twitter, compared to 8% of Gen X-ers (age 30 – 44) and 5% of Boomers (age 45 – 63), and 19% of Millennials said it is acceptable to keep copies of confidential documents, compared to 16% of Gen X-ers and 15% of Baby Boomers. They also, along with Gen X-ers have less of a problem calling in sick when they’re not (18% of Millenials and 19% of Gen X-ers vs. 13% of Boomers).  

“Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers: Who’s Working at Your Company and What Do They Think About Ethics?” is based on results of ERC’s 2009 National Business Ethics Survey of 2,852 respondents.  

The report is here.