In 2019, a new Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) into unethical workplace behaviour was released. The survey again showed that conflict of interest is the number one unethical practice observed by employees. Around 34% of those who see it fail to report it. Globally, nearly half of all employees reported witnessing conduct risk.

Why Don’t Employees Speak Up?


Fear of retaliation is a significant factor as to why employees don’t speak up. Backlash can happen in many different forms; fewer working hours, missed promotions, unpopular work assignments. The #metoo movement has made efforts to raise awareness of the pervasive nature of workplace harassment. However, 46% of those reporting sexual harassment in 2019 continue to experience retaliation.

When employees do speak up, they tend to do this with their manager rather than anonymously. The results of the 2019 survey are again consistent with this. Typically, Australian workplaces do not provide specific training for managers on how to respond when employees raise concerns. Is this a barrier to managing conduct risk?

Lack of respect and civility in the workplace is the second most common type of observed misconduct. Abusive behaviour creates low trust workplaces. Aggressive, degrading, or intimidating behaviour is of no benefit to anyone. It not only lowers a company’s ethical standards but also saps employee commitment and overall performance. Is this another unspoken barrier to increased employee productivity?

Is Change Possible?


It is possible to change workplaces to make them more civil and more inclusive. Companies must upskill to be better able to listen and respond to employees’ concerns. There is some good news in that regard. The 2019 survey found that employees reporting violations of health and/or safety regulations were less likely to experience retaliation. Around 30% experienced retaliation vs the 46% reporting sexual harassment.

Isn’t it way past time that leaders allocated sufficient resources to training managers and leaders in how to respond when their people point to risks? eLearning is not going to cut it!

It is time for leaders to step up. They need to design company contexts which enable employees to feel safe when identifying risks. Behavioural sciences show us how to develop workplace cultures that encourage speaking up. Let’s use them.

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