EDITORIAL: Drawing the line and rocking the boat

EDITORIAL: Drawing the line and rocking the boat - Time to draw lines. When does a liberty become a larceny? Where does a fiddle turn into a fraud? How is your ethical posture? It may be open to adjustment, but we all have to take a stance on these issues

by RUFUS OLINS, Editor-in-chief
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Time to draw lines. When does a liberty become a larceny? Where does a fiddle turn into a fraud? How is your ethical posture? It may be open to adjustment, but we all have to take a stance on these issues in the workplace - drawing lines for ourselves and for those around us.

We knew where most managers would stand on certain issues when we teamed up with KPMG Forensic Accounting to look at ethical attitudes. We're not a bad lot in Britain. But we also knew we would find plenty of unethical behaviour. We live in the real world. But the reason for putting the question was to raise the issue rather than to weigh the problem. In the results, as so often happens, the surprises were found between the lines. The response itself was a shock. To get more than 800 busy people, many of them top executives, to reply to our questionnaire reveals a very high degree of interest in the issue. The fact that most were aware of workplace misconduct explains this concern. But the numbers who fail to blow the whistle, who accept it as inevitable and cost it into their operations add up to a snapshot of a business landscape sorely in need of a stronger ethical framework.

It was alarming to see how many people at board level had a relaxed attitude towards artificially raising profits in their books as long as nothing was stolen, and how many accepted that everyone lies to the boss on occasion.

Small wonder, then, that less than half the respondents saw ethical role models at the top.

And then there was the surprise about ethical man vs ethical woman. The fact that women had a more liberal attitude than men towards most of the misbehaviour presented to them was unexpected. It made for a good soundbite, but didn't seem to fit the common perception. So the analysts looked for reasons why the figures added up to this conclusion. They came up with a few - among them that women may be less willing to condemn an action without knowing more of the circumstances, and that they may have been more honest than men in their answers to the survey. We might offer another possible explanation. Perhaps it reveals that women, even at higher levels of management, are still reluctant to rock the boat - that, despite the advances women have made in the workplace, they are not yet secure enough to risk the alienation of those around them by blowing the whistle on established but unethical practices.

It must be stressed that we didn't ask managers and directors about their own behaviour but about their attitudes and their perceptions of others.

So let's ask you now. Where do you draw the line on office crime? Would you blow the whistle? Would you turn against someone who did? Test yourself.

You could be a role model.

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