By Daniel Hunter

Over three fifths (63%) of managers have been expected to behave unethically at some point in their career, according to research published today (Monday) by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and Business in the Community (BITC).

The report, Added values: The importance of ethical leadership, found that 9% of managers have been asked to break the law at work at some point in their career, while one in 10 have left their jobs as a result of being asked to do something that made them feel uncomfortable. This is in spite of 77% of managers believing that, since 2008, the general public’s expectations of UK organisations’ ethical behaviour have risen.

In the survey of over 1,000 managers across the public and private sectors, 93% said their organisation had a values statement but over two fifths (43%) had been pressured to behave in direct violation of it, with 12% of managers saying that the correlation between employee behaviour and company values was not close ‘at all’ in their workplace.

In addition over a quarter (27%) of respondents were concerned their career would suffer if they were to report an ethical breach, with whistleblowing fears higher amongst more junior managers (17% of whom were certain of experiencing negative consequences) than directors (9%).

“Business ethics have come under increased public scrutiny in recent years, but our research highlights just how many people are still facing ethical conflicts at work," Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, said.

“As well as damaging a company’s reputation, we see that ethical failings can have a negative impact on employee happiness, loyalty and trust in their organisation.

“Not all ethical decisions will be black and white, but an explicit and consistent set of values which are embedded within the organisation and reflected across all of its actions — from strategic decisions down to day-to-day activities — will lay the foundations for ethical behaviour. Leaders and managers, including those at more junior levels, have a crucial role to play in communicating their organisation’s values and should be given the support they need to enable cultural change.”

Stephen Howard, Chief Executive of Business in the Community, said: “Cultural change is not something that can be instilled in organisations overnight, but this research indicates where some of the key pressure points lie. The importance of junior and middle managers in setting an organisation’s ethical tone cannot be overestimated — they often feel squeezed and are sceptical about how well corporate values map to their own, are relevant to their work or are demonstrated by their colleagues.

“Responsible leaders must make sure the managers throughout their organisation are involved in the creation of values and understand how those values apply to their day to day work. Otherwise they cannot be sure the values as written are the ones that are lived, exposing their organisation to potential ethical breaches and reputational risk.”

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