Experts call for more robust ways to raise concerns, and slam ‘lack of leadership’ from politicians on the issue

More than half (55 per cent) of workers have witnessed, or been asked to do, something unethical at work, a survey published today has found.

The poll of 1,000 UK professionals by charity A Blueprint for Better Business also revealed that just 2 per cent would definitely refuse to take part in something that made them feel uncomfortable at work, while almost half (48 per cent) would voice their concerns but go ahead with the activity regardless.

A lack of ethical awareness in the office is also taking a toll on staff retention, with more than a third (34 per cent) saying they were tempted to change jobs because of behaviours and actions they witnessed in the workplace, and 15 per cent reporting they had left a role for this reason. Only 9 per cent said that experiencing inappropriate or uncomfortable behaviour would not be a good enough reason to leave a job.

“This poll highlights some worrying common traits of business life, showing that we often find it hard to deal with situations that make us feel uncomfortable,” said Charles Wookey, chief executive of A Blueprint for Better Business. “While there are of course huge differences in how employees experience these challenges, we would all benefit from being better supported to talk about difficult topics that may cause us unease, and feel empowered to call out decisions or behaviours that make us uncomfortable.”

Peter Montagnon, associate director at the Institute of Business Ethics, said: “It’s always a defeat when people leave because they have experienced something they can’t cope with. It reflects badly on the organisation and it’s tough on [the employee] that they feel they have to leave.”

Having robust ways for employees to raise sensitive issues is essential, added Montagnon: “There is a lot more chance of dealing with these things in organisations that have effective arrangements for speaking up. So if you have concerns, you can voice them in a way [where] you will be treated with respect, where you won’t immediately be facing retaliation. That means confidentiality is respected and the helpline is independent of the management.”

The survey also found that women were more likely to seek out an ethical solution than men, with 36 per cent saying they would propose an alternative action they did feel comfortable with, compared with just 30 per cent of their male counterparts.

And in a snap poll of People Management’s Twitter followers, nearly half of respondents had been asked to do something unethical at work and refused, while only a little over a third had never been asked to do something they considered unethical.


At the time of writing, more than 80 per cent of Twitter followers said the responsibility for ethics in an organisation rested with all employees. Less than 5 per cent said it was HR’s responsibility.


The findings come at a time when a string of high-profile sexual harassment claims have rocked several sectors. At the start of this month, a number of accusations emerged regarding the behaviour of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the last few days, allegations have been raised against several MPs, including some serving ministers.

Montagnon said many companies were “working quite hard and quite conscientiously” to address questions of workplace ethics. “What is a bit of a pity, I think, is the lack of leadership shown by our politicians, because it’s taking them a very long time to get to grips with what clearly is quite a large problem. Business always gets the rap, and it gets the rap from politicians who themselves are quite often behaving even worse.”

Last week, a poll published by the BBC revealed that half of women, and a fifth of men, had been sexually harassed at work.


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