The 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) into unethical workplace behaviour again shows that conflicts of interest is the number 1 unethical practice observed by employees with some 34% of those who see it, failing to report it. Globally nearly one-half of all employees reported witnessing conduct risk.

Fear of retaliation – in the form of less working hours, missed promotional opportunities, unpopular work assignments – being a key reason why employees fail to speak-up. Despite the #metoo movement’s efforts to raise consciousness of the pervasive nature of workplace harassment, 46% of those reporting sexual harassment in 2019 continue to experience retaliation.

When employees do speak up, the 2019 survey again confirms that employees raise their concerns with their direct managers rather than anonymously. Typically, Australian workplaces do not provide specific training for managers in how to respond when employee raise concerns– is this an institutional barrier to managing conduct risk?

Lack of respect and civility in the workplace is the second most common type of observed misconduct. Abusive behaviour, i.e. behaviour that is aggressive, degrading and intimidating creates low trust workplaces. It not only lowers an organisation’s ethical standards, it also saps employee commitment and overall performance – another unspoken institutional barrier to increased employee productivity?

It is possible to change our workplaces to make them more civil, more inclusive and better able to listen and respond to employee’s concerns. For example, the 2019 survey found that employees reporting violations of health and/or safety regulations were less likely to experience retaliation ( with 30% experiencing retaliation vs the 46% reporting sexual harassment.)

Isn’t it way past time that leaders allocated sufficient resources to training managers and Exco leaders in how to respond when their people point to risks? Elearning won’t do it!

Isn’t it way past time leaders purposely stepped up to designing their organisational contexts to enable employees to feel safe when identifying organisational risks? We have the science to show us how to develop workplace cultures to encourage speaking up. Let’s use it.

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