Australians worry they risk their careers if they report misconduct at work

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  • Many Australians decide to do nothing when they see misconduct at work.
  • They fear their jobs may be put in jeopardy for speaking up.
  • And others say nothing would be done even if they did speak up.

An ethics survey looking at corporate Australia shows many employees don’t bother to report misconduct because it of fears this might put their jobs at risk.

More than third of workers remain silent, according to new research by The Institute of Business Ethics in partnership with The Ethics Centre.

The Ethics at Work survey of 752 Australian workers found 1 in 4 (24%) have been aware of misconduct during the past year at work.

Yet more than a third (35%) decided not to speak up.

When asked what influenced their decision, 32% said they felt speaking up might jeopardise their job.

And 27% did not believe that corrective action would be taken even if they did speak up.

John Neil, Co-Head of Advice and Education at The Ethics Centre, says employee views are a key indicator of the ethical temperature of any organisation.

“These results reveal that many Australians don’t trust that the current systems for speaking up against unethical behaviour are there to support them, and are choosing to stay quiet or compromise their own values,” he says.

The most common type of misconduct was bullying and harassment (41%), followed by inappropriate or unethical treatment of people (39%) and misreporting of working hours (32%).

The findings also reveal that 1 in 10 (13%) have felt pressured to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards in the workplace.

The report also finds that the majority of workers believe honesty is practised regularly at work (84%). However, 14% feel that practicing honesty is either occasional or rare in their workplace.

Philippa Foster Back, Director of the The Institute of Business Ethics, says global movements such as #metoo are having ramifications throughout the workplace, not just in terms of people speaking up about harassment, but in feeling empowered to raise concerns about other issues.

“Employees are under more stress to deliver than ever before, and this is increasing the pressure to then cut ethical corners,” she says.

“These figures should be seen as a warning sign to organisations that they need to be more supportive of their employees when it comes to making ethical decisions.”

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