Survey: Employees Question Employers' Ethical Standards

August 3, 2006 ( - At a time when corporate America's feet are being held to the coals and shareholders are taking public stands to rein in governance misbehavior, a recent survey by LRN Corp. suggests that employees are also taking a strong stand against bad company ethics.

According to an LRN press release, the survey found a majority of workers (94%) said it is critical or important that the company for which they work act ethically; 82% said they would rather be paid less but work for a company with ethical business practices.More than one in three (36%) workers surveyed said they have left their jobs because they disagree with their employer’s business ethics.

“Our findings confirm that companies with a commitment to ethical conduct enjoy distinct advantages in the marketplace, including attracting and retaining talent,” said Dov Seidman, LRN CEO and chairman, in the release. “Companies that inspire principled conduct throughout their workforce also experience fewer ethical distractions,” he added.

Although the majority of employees think highly of their employer’s ethical business practices, one-fourth of those surveyed said that in the past six months they have witnessed a colleague acting unethically (18%) or illegally (7%). Fourteen percent have witnessed harassing or discriminatory behavior. Among those who have witnessed unethical behavior, about one in four said they do so at least once a week, including 12% who said that the behaviors are a daily occurrence.

The survey also found that unethical behavior has an impact on an employee’s productivity. Very few of those who experienced unethical behavior on the job – only 11% – said they were not affected by it.Half of those surveyed admitted that unethical behavior is a distraction on the job, and almost one-third (32%) went so far as to speak with management or make a formal complaint.

Other findings of the survey include:

  • 80% cite disagreement with the ethics of fellow employees, a supervisor or management as the most important ethical reason for leaving a job.
  • 21% cite pressure to engage in illegal activity.
  • 56% percent of US workers surveyed said their current employer embraces ethics and corporate values in everything they do. About half as many, or 30%, said their company follows the law and company policies.

Demographical findings of the survey include:

  • Working for an ethical company is slightly more critical to women (63%), than men (53%).
  • Full-time employees in the West and South, 62% and 61% respectively, are more likely than those in the North Central and Northeast, 54% and 48% respectively, to say it is critical to them.
  • Two-thirds of those in professional and managerial occupations, said this is critical to them, compared with 53% of sales and clerical employees and 45% of blue collar workers. Those holding managerial positions (86%) would prefer working for an ethical company more so than blue collar workers (76%) who say the same thing.
  • Those 35 and older are slightly more likely than younger workers to choose working for an ethical company over more pay, 85% compared 76%.

Nine percent of people surveyed said they either work at a company where they do what they are told and are not encouraged to ask questions about what is right or wrong, or they often see management and peers acting in questionable ways.

A copy of the survey can be viewed here . Registration is required.