Unethical Behavior Driven by Unrealistic Expectations

January 17, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new survey on business ethics found that the number one factor most likely to cause unethical corporate behavior is pressure from management or company boards to meet unrealistic business objectives or deadlines.

The survey, commissioned by the American Management Association (AMA) and conducted by the Human Resource Institute (HRI), revealed that the desire to further one’s career and the desire to protect one’s livelihood came in second and third for factors most likely to cause unethical behavior, according to a press release.

Other factors, in order ranked by survey respondents included:

  • working in an environment with cynicism or diminished morale,
  • improper training about or ignorance that acts are unethical,
  • lack of consequences when caught,
  • the need to follow the boss’s orders,
  • peer pressure/desire to be a team player,
  • desire to steal from or harm the organization, and
  • wanting to help the organization survive.

According to the AMA and HRI, policies and processes that can ensure an ethical culture include: leadership support and modeling of ethical behavior, consistent communications from all leaders, integrating ethics into goals, processes and strategies, and making ethics a part of performance management systems and a part of the recruitment and employee selection process.

Specifically, the survey found that the single most important ethical leadership behavior is keeping promises, followed by encouraging open communication, keeping employees informed and supporting employees who uphold ethical standards.

A corporate code of conduct is viewed as being most important program or practice to ensure an ethical culture.   In addition, respondents listed ethics training for all members of the organization, corporate social responsibility programs, ombudsman services, and help lines as specific programs or practices organizations can use.

“The Ethical Enterprise” included responses from 1,121 managers and HR experts from around the world.   The full report can be read  here .