The Ethics Resource Center (www.ethics.org) released its latest National Business Ethics Survey results in January 2012. There is good news and bad news.
The good news is that overall reports of misconduct are at historic lows and those who observe ethical misconduct are more willing to report it than in past years.
The bad news is that retaliation, pressure to compromise one’s ethical principles, and observations of a weak ethical culture are up since the last survey in 2009.
The most disturbing finding is that ethical misconduct is expected to increase – perhaps substantially – once the economy fully recovers. “Companies behave differently during economic difficulties,” the researchers noted.
Here’s the part that caught my attention. The report suggests that individuals and organizations are more willing to commit ethical indiscretions as they feel more secure and the quest for profits outweighs the desire to do what’s right. In essence, the willingness to do stupid, greedy stuff increases with increased profits, and the desire to do what’s right increases when the economy makes it more difficult to succeed.
This seems counterintuitive to me. Conventional wisdom says that people are more likely to cheat when, as the study stated, they are feeling more pressure to succeed.
I’m not saying the report is wrong, but isn’t it a little like saying that more people will rob a bank when they don’t need the money than when they do?
How about you? Are you more likely to violate your company’s ethical standards when it is harder to make a profit (and logically cheating could help)? Or, are you, as the study suggests, more likely to bend the rules when you are feeling secure in your job and the economy makes it easier to succeed?
Weigh in with your thoughts.