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A strong ethical culture is based on consistent ethical behavior, which stems from focusing training around a company’s ethics and values.

While employers are struggling with managing four different generations in the workplace, businesses are also faced with a downward shift in business ethics.

According to a report published by the Ethic Resource Center, a private, non-profit focused on advancement of high ethical standards, there is a difference in attitudes among the four generational groups, particularly Millennials.

The Ethic Resource Center study found that the youngest workers are significantly more likely than their older colleagues to feel pressure from others to break ethical rules because the pressure “eases as workers spend more time in the workforce and learn ways of coping with their work environment.”

Additionally, more younger workers observed ethical misconduct in the workplace than their older associates. Millennials observed 49 percent of workplace misconduct, the highest of all generations.  Some of the ethical misconduct they observed included:

  • Personal business on company time – 26 percent
  • Lying to employees – 22 percent
  • Abusive behavior – 21 percent
  • Company resource abuse – 21 percent
  • Discrimination – 18 percent

Approximately two-thirds of the Millennials reported the misconduct. The top items they reported were:

  • Stealing or theft – 74 percent
  • Falsifying expense reports – 71 percent
  • Goods/services fail to meet specifications – 69 percent
  • Falsifying time sheets or hours worked – 68 percent
  • Offering improper payments/bribes to public officials – 67 percent

Probably the most interesting result of the generational analysis is the high percentage of Millennials who consider certain behaviors in the workplace to be ethical, such as:

  • Using social networking to find out about the company’s competitors – 37 percent
  • “Friending” a client or customer on a social network – 36 percent
  • Uploading personal photos on a company network – 26 percent
  • Keeping copies of confidential documents – 22 percent
  • Working less to compensate for cuts in benefits or pay – 18 percent
  • Buying personal items using a company credit card – 15 percent
  • Blogging or tweeting negatively about a company – 14 percent
  • Taking a copy of work software home for personal use – 13 percent

Social media brings a whole new set of behavior standards. Posting questionable information about the workplace on their personal sites includes:

  • Feelings about their jobs – 40 percent
  • Bad joke told by the boss – 26 percent
  • Work on a project – 26 percent
  • Picture of a coworker drinking – 22 percent
  • Annoying habit of a coworker – 20 percent
  • Information about the company’s competitors – 19 percent
  • Opinion about a coworker’s politics – 16 percent

In terms of reporting frequency, which mirrors overall effectiveness of ethics and compliance programs, Millennials are more likely to report misconduct when they can:

  • Use company resources (such as a hotline),
  • Feel prepared to handle an ethical dilemma (through effective training),
  • Talk to an ethics advice resource in the company, and
  • Rely on coworkers for support.

Most experts agree that effective training is the sign of a strong ethical culture.

About the Author
Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Mike Esterday first discovered his talent for sales when he ranked number one out of 6,000 sales professionals in his...
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