The Ethics Resource Center issued its biannual report on the prevalence of misconductin American companies. Two counter-intuitive findings stood out for me: One found that in bad economic times company ethics improved, while the reporting of misconduct rose. The study found that pressure to engage in unethical behavior is more rampant. Likewise, retaliation against whistleblowing increased, to the point where it is now at an all time high.
On the other hand, while employees thought that workplace ethics was on the decline, they observed less misconduct overall. Some believed that wrongdoers were laying low during the recession. The center predicted that “as the economy gets better – and companies and employees become more optimistic about their financial futures – it seems likely that misconduct will rise and reporting will drop.”
Though it would seem that misconduct would increase during difficult economic times, not all misconduct is designed to increase profits. The Center shows that the incidence of misconduct observed by employees rises and falls with the stock market. The study suggests that employees are more careful when their job stability is more fragile to avoid sexual harassment and other misconduct.
Another finding focused on people who actively used social networking. The report showed that they report more negative experiences in their workplaces, and were more likely to be retaliated against. At the same time, they “show a higher tolerance for certain activities that could be considered questionable.”
The report strongly recommends that employers improve their commitment to ethics programs, end retaliation, and bond with active social networkers, who are more likely to witness misconduct, and generally to say positive things on social networking sites.