Have you ever seen unethical behavior? If you did, did you say something or wonder whether it was truly unethical? Nearly three-quarters of employees who responded to one survey reported that they had observed unethical or illegal behavior by coworkers in the past year (Gino et al., 2014). “People often start their misconduct with small transgressions and then slide down a slippery slope” (Gino et al., 2014).
From a behavioral perspective, one can hypothesize these small transgressions resulted in enough reinforcement to continue to behave towards larger transgressions, again possibly yielding further reinforcement, ultimately resulting in major unethical behavior (i.e., fraud, larceny). Unfortunately, the assumption that unethical workplace behavior is the product of a few “bad apples” has blinded many organizations to the fact that everyone is susceptible to their environment and can be unethical, even when we care a great deal about honesty, integrity, and following rules. Yet approaches to warding off those few “bad apples” need not be drastic.
Arthur Schwartz (2015) wrote about a recent survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics Resource Center (ERC), sharing “within the past year, almost half of [those surveyed] personally witnessed some form of ethical misconduct.” The “good news from the ERC study is that most American workers and employers do the right thing.” The survey revealed most follow ethical standards of behavior and are willing to report wrongdoing when they see it “(unless it’s the company’s Internet use policy, more on that in a minute).”
For those of us who have had the opportunity to focus on ethics and ethical behavior in the workplace, there is abundant of literature and research to help guide our work to support organizations and specifically individuals responsible for ethics in the workplace. For example, The Ethics and Compliance Initiative, the research arm is the ERC, published the results of a research report from the national business ethics survey stating “Employee Views of Leaders’ Personal Conduct Drives Perceptions of their Ethical Leadership. Workers’ Judge Leaders Primarily by Three Factors – the overall character of their leaders as experienced through personal interactions; how senior managers handle crises; and the policies and procedures adopted by senior leaders to manage the company. (ECI, 2015).
According to (Lattal and Clark (2007), there are behaviors that each of us can do to contribute to a “stronger ethical workplace”, meaning people demonstrating behaviors deemed ethical. But where do you begin?
Well, first, let’s review the 5 most common unethical behaviors according to the Ethics Resource Center.
5 Most Common Unethical Behaviors Ethics Resource Center (ERC) Survey
Misuse of company time. Whether it is covering for someone who shows up late or altering a time sheet, misusing company time tops the list. This category includes knowing a co-worker is conducting personal business on company time. By “personal business” the survey recognizes the difference between making cold calls to advance your freelance business and calling a spouse to find out how your sick child is doing. Misuse of company time is unethical.
- Abusive Behavior. Too many workplaces are filled with leaders who use their position and power to mistreat others. Unfortunately, unless the situation involves race, gender or ethnic origin, there is often little to no legal protection against abusive behavior in the workplace. Abusive behavior is unethical.
- Employee Theft. Whether its check tampering, not recording sales in order to skim, or manipulating expense reimbursements, employee theft is a crime and unethical.
- Lying to employees. The fastest way to lose the trust of your employees is to lie to them. If you ask employees whether their manager or supervisor has lied to them within the past year, you may be surprised at the results. Lying is unethical.
- Violating Company Internet Policies. Cyberslackers. Cyberloafers. These are terms used to identify people who surf the internet when they should be working. This is a huge, multi-billion-dollar problem for companies. Who would have thought that checking your Facebook or Twitter account is becoming an ethical issue? It is, violating company internet policies is unethical.
How Can Behavior Science Help?
For those of us who are interested in ethical behavior in the workplace, we can help. There are two behaviors we can engage in to support leaders of organizations to drive ethical behavior: 1) Give a little “nudge” to ethical behavior and 2) Analyze organizational culture to evaluate its Ethical practices using Behavioral Systems Analysis.
- Give a nudge
Have you ever had to sign a document with the phrase “I promise that the information I am providing is true” prior to signing? Well, some studies, although not empirical, suggest this statement nudges honesty. Individuals who sign when the statement is present before signing has been shown to be significantly more honest compared to those who reported first and signed at the bottom of the page.
- Reinforce Specific Leadership Behaviors to Encourage Ethical Behavior
Transparency, communication, and accountability around ethical behaviors are a few of the leadership behaviors commonly suggested to leaders. The behavior scientist can provide focus education and coaching on these behaviors to enable leaders to demonstrate critical behaviors which demonstrate a focus on ethics and being ethical.
In addition, a common approach in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) to analyzing the intricate components of an organization is Behavioral Systems Analysis (BSA). BSA is an approach to organizational design and management based on the premise that organizations are complex systems. In short, changes in one aspect of an organization affect performance in another part of the organization. BSA can arm organizations to further integrate ethical practices into a company. For example, Lattal & Clark (2007) provide a thoughtful list of ethical practices that organizations can employ to encourage ethics.
- Set ethical values statements
- Discuss ethics during performance reviews
- Reinforce ethical behavior
- Retain ethical employees
- Make ethics a hiring priority
This is further reinforced by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (2015) whose recommendations based on the Research Report from the National Business Ethics Survey® (NBES®) consist of 4 recommendations:
- Pay attention to the personal character when hiring and make 24-7 integrity a job expectation.
- Educate managers about the way employees evaluate leaders, including the impact of “private” behavior in the age of social media.
- Encourage leaders to share credit for success and seek honest feedback from employees.
- Annually review business objectives and policies to ensure they promote ethical performance.
When moral standards are unclear or unenforced, it’s easy for employees to act in questionable behaviors that are readily rationalized. Environments that nudge employees in the right direction, leaders who demonstrate ethical behavior and encourage ethical behaviors, and organizational systems built to support ethical practices is the perfect ethical trio.
First published in Behavioral Science in the 21st Century
Terms: EMPLOYEE THEFT, ETHICAL BEHAVIOR, ETHICS, Leadership, OBM, Organizational Behavior ManagementSours: https://abatechnologies.com/blog/common-unethical-behaviors-in-the-workplace
Examples of Unethical Behavior in the Workplace
Ethical behavior, simply put, is doing the right thing. Unethical behavior is the reverse. In the workplace, unethical behavior certainly includes any deeds that violate the law, such as theft or violence. But unethical behavior can involve much broader areas as well, such as deliberate violations of company policies, or using hard-sell sales practices that may be legal, strictly speaking, but that take excessive advantage of human frailties. Examples of unethical behavior can be found in all types of businesses and in many different areas.
Deliberate Deception in the Workplace
Deliberate deception in the workplace includes taking credit for work done by someone else, calling in sick in order to go to the beach, sabotaging the work of another person and, in sales, misrepresenting the product or service to get the sale. There are other examples of deliberate deception, but these show how damaging deception can be by using a person's trust to undermine his rights and security. In a workplace environment, this results in conflict and retaliation. In a sales function, it can result in lawsuits from deceived customers.
Violation of Conscience
Your sales manager calls you into his office and threatens to fire you unless you sell 50 large toasters. You know the large toasters are inferior products and have been selling the small toasters to your customers, instead. To keep your job, you must violate your conscience and recommend that your customers buy the large toasters. Your boss is engaging in unethical behavior by forcing you to do something you know is wrong, and also risking the ire and potential loss of valuable customers to meet a product sales goal.
He may be engaging in unethical conduct because top management has forced him by threatening his job, too. Coercion is also the basis for workplace sexual harassment and results in lawsuits. Unethical behavior often causes more unethical behavior.
Failure to Honor Commitments
Your boss promises you an extra day off if you rush out an important project by a certain date. You work late hours and finish the project before the deadline. Ready for your day off, you mention it to your boss who responds "No, we have too much work to do."
Your boss engaged in unethical behavior that has virtually guaranteed your future distrust and unwillingness to extend yourself to assist in department emergencies. In addition, you are likely to complain to your co-workers, causing them to distrust the promises of the boss and be unwilling to cooperate with his requests.
Theft and Other Unlawful Conduct
Padding an expense account with non-business expenses, raiding the supply cabinet to take home pens and notebooks and passing around unregistered or counterfeit software are examples of unlawful conduct in the workplace. The person who steals from the company by padding her expense account or taking supplies for personal use risks losing her job. If a company decides to overlook such theft on the basis of maintaining employee morale by not firing a popular employee, other employees will also steal so they can feel they are getting the same deal as their co-worker. Passing around counterfeit software, if discovered by the manufacturer, can cost the company through lawsuits and fines.
On a grander scale, Enron-style accounting fraud – "cooking the books" – involves a coordinated, deliberate and illegal effort to misstate company earnings and mislead investors as a way of manipulating the company's stock price. This is the type of unethical behavior that sends company executives to jail.
Disregard of Company Policy
An employer is understandably concerned about avoiding lawsuits and angry customers because those things negatively affect profitability. Most employers clearly state company policies against deception, coercion and illegal activities. They also strive to convey an image of trustworthiness to their customers and employees.
Corporate trustworthiness helps retain customers and valued employees, and the loss of either also negatively affects company profitability. To disregard company policy is unethical because it has the potential to harm the company and other employees.
Victoria Duff specializes in entrepreneurial subjects, drawing on her experience as an acclaimed start-up facilitator, venture catalyst and investor relations manager. Since 1995 she has written many articles for e-zines and was a regular columnist for "Digital Coast Reporter" and "Developments Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in public administration from the University of California at Berkeley.
What is an example of unethical behavior?
Unethical Behavior Among Individuals Lying to your spouse about how much money you spent. Lying to your parents about where you were for the evening. Stealing money from the petty cash drawer at work. Lying on your resume in order to get a job.
What is unethical behavior in education?
Using unauthorized notes, or study aids, or information from another student or student’s paper on an examination. Communicating answers with another person during an exam. Altering graded work after it has been returned, and then submitting the work for regrading without the instructor’s knowledge.
What are some ethical issues that teachers face?
What Are Some Ethical Issues Every School Must Discuss?
- Conduct. Conduct is an important aspect of ethical practices. Conduct can include boundary violations, abuse or improper relationships.
- Assessment. Assessment of students is another “hot spot” of ethical practices.
- Planning. Good planning is a part of the commitment that every teacher needs to make as a professional.
What are three examples of unethical behavior in the workplace?
5 Most Common Unethical Behaviors Ethics Resource Center (ERC) Survey
- Misuse of company time. Whether it is covering for someone who shows up late or altering a time sheet, misusing company time tops the list.
- Abusive Behavior.
- Employee Theft.
- Lying to employees.
- Violating Company Internet Policies.
What are some examples of unethical communication?
Common unethical behaviors include plagiarism, including in both written and non-written forms of communication; breaking confidentiality; and the manipulation of information. This includes many forms of propaganda, which inherently encourage exclusive hierarchies of power.
What are examples of ethical behavior?
What are examples of ethical behavior? Ethical behavior includes honesty, integrity, fairness and a variety of other positive traits. Those who have others’ interests in mind when they make decisions are displaying ethical behavior. In the workplace, there might be a standard for ethics set throughout the company.
What are the 5 ethical standards?
Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues. Virtue ethics asks of any action, “What kind of person will I become if I do this?” or “Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?”
What are the six characteristics of ethical teaching?
The six characteristics of ethical teaching include appreciation for moral deliberation, empathy, knowledge, reasoning, courage, and interpersonal skills.
What are the 8 ethical principles?
This analysis focuses on whether and how the statements in these eight codes specify core moral norms (Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-Maleficence, and Justice), core behavioral norms (Veracity, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Fidelity), and other norms that are empirically derived from the code statements.
What are the 7 ethical principles?
This approach – focusing on the application of seven mid-level principles to cases (non-maleficence, beneficence, health maximisation, efficiency, respect for autonomy, justice, proportionality) – is presented in this paper.
What are the 10 ethical principles?
of principles incorporate the characteristics and values that most people associate with ethical behavior.
- PROMISE-KEEPING & TRUSTWORTHINESS.
- CONCERN FOR OTHERS.
- RESPECT FOR OTHERS.
- LAW ABIDING.
What are ethical standards?
Morality stated as principles. Intended to generate trust, good behavior, fairness, and kindness. Typically occurs in a corporate setting, for an organization.
What are the 6 universal ethical standards?
Based on the convergence of the three sources of standards, six universal moral values for corporate codes of ethics are proposed including: (1) trustworthiness; (2) respect; (3) responsibility; (4) fairness; (5) caring; and (6) citizenship.
What are the three ethical standards?
Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition, are particularly relevant to the ethics of research involving human subjects: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice. These are based on the Belmont Report.
What are examples of professional ethics?
However, there are some universal ethical principles that apply across all professions, including:
- respect for others.
- adherence to the law.
- doing good and avoiding harm to others.
What are some common ethical types?
Types of ethics
- Duty-based ethics.
- Virtue ethics.
- Situation ethics.
What are some good examples of ethics in school?
Ethics in the Classroom: What You Need to Know
- Do no harm.
- Make things better.
- Respect others.
- Be fair.
- Be loving.
How do we use ethics in our daily life?
Ethics teaches us what we ought to do, not what we do. We ought to treat others with kindness, compassion, respect, and so on. In other words, an ethical person practices applying virtues, our character traits, in making everyday decisions. Virtues are the positive traits of character that inform our ethical being.
Why Ethics is part of our daily life?
Ethics is a system of principles that helps us tell right from wrong, good from bad. Ethics can give real and practical guidance to our lives. We constantly face choices that affect the quality of our lives. We are aware that the choices that we make have consequences, both for ourselves and others.
Why ethics is important in our daily life?
Ethics serve as a guide to moral daily living and helps us judge whether our behavior can be justified. Ethics refers to society’s sense of the right way of living our daily lives. It does this by establishing rules, principles, and values on which we can base our conduct.
What are everyday ethical decisions examples?
16 Real-Life Examples of Ethical Dilemmas
- Should parents monitor teens’ social media activities?
- Reporting an accident.
- Ghosting in the workplace.
- Medical care versus religious beliefs.
- Misinterpret data deliberately?
- Share my political leanings and risk losing clients?
- Internet dilemmas.
What are the 3 moral dilemmas?
There are several types of moral dilemmas, but the most common of them are categorized into the following: 1) epistemic and ontological dilemmas, 2) self-imposed and world-imposed dilemmas, 3) obligation dilemmas and prohibition dilemmas, and 4) single agent and multi-person dilemmas.
What are the four ethical dilemmas?
In LDRS 111 you were introduced to four different ethical dilemma paradigms: truth vs loyalty, short-term vs long-term, individual vs community, and justice vs mercy. larger group.
Which of these is a factor that affects ethical and unethical Behaviour?
Answer: Individual factors, such as knowledge, values, personal goals, morals and personality. Social factors, such as cultural norms, the Internet and friends and family.
What are the common ethical issues for IT users?
These are explained with their affects as following below:
- Personal Privacy: It is an important aspect of ethical issues in information technology.
- Access Right: The second aspect of ethical issues in information technology is access right.
- Harmful Actions:
- Trade Secrets:
What are the factors affecting ethical behavior?
Individual, social, and opportunity factors all affect the level of ethical behavior in an organization. Individual factors include knowledge level, moral values and attitudes, and personal goals. Social factors include cultural norms and the actions and values of coworkers and significant others.
Where do we get ethics from?
In terms of where ethics come from, they come from society and the collective beliefs and values of its citizens. But, more specifically, ethics also come from those individuals willing to make difficult choices and think about big questions: good and bad, right and wrong.
What is ethics and example?
Ethics is defined as a moral philosophy or code of morals practiced by a person or group of people. An example of ethics is a the code of conduct set by a business. (philosophy) The study of principles relating to right and wrong conduct.
Definition of unethical workplace behavior
Most experts define unethical workplace behavior as any harmful action at work that violates the moral norms of the broader community.
This definition highlights five important aspects of unethical behavior.
Unethical workplace behavior and illegal behavior are not the same
First, unethical behavior and illegal behavior overlap, but only to a certain extent.
For instance, there are new moral standards that are not yet part of our legal or regulatory systems. Likewise, we have laws and regulations being enforced that are no longer a reflection of our current moral standards.
Regulations and unethical behavior, thus, co-evolve over time and are largely a reflection of the belief system of a community at a given time. More often than not, laws and regulations tend to follow the evolving moral beliefs of a community, but frequently with a delay.
Unethical workplace behavior can be intentional and unintentional
Second, this definition suggests that when people behave unethically they can do it intentionally or unintentionally.
In intentional unethical behavior, people know that they are crossing an ethical boundary and they act purposely. When people chose to behave unethically they can do it for selfish reasons, but also as the result of situations in which all available options have ethical costs. Counterproductive work behavior is another label that has been used for this type of intentional action.
In contrast, people sometimes behave unethically because they are not aware that they are transgressing moral standards. These unintentional unethical behaviors can be due to, for example, failure to notice important information while making a decision, inability to identify the ethical ramifications of a decision, or even lack of knowledge of what is acceptable and unacceptable for a given community.
Unethical workplace behavior is anchored socially
Third, this definition brings to the spotlight the social anchoring of unethical workplace behavior.
Communities (such as organizations, departments, and teams) develop and implement moral rules to prevent selfish behaviors that can jeopardize their viability, and to stimulate cooperative behaviors among people who depend upon each other.
As social animals, we tend to internalize the moral standards of our communities, and we end up influencing others morally in the same direction.
This cycle sustains the moral standards of a community but can also be a source of tension between communities. For example, we may find ourselves disagreeing with people from other communities on what is right or wrong at work, and struggling to understand their ethical position due to our internalized standards.
Context defines, to a certain extent, what is unethical at work
Fourth, bluntly illegal and unethical acts aside, unethical behavior is highly contextual.
Since what is considered ethical or unethical largely depends on the judgment of the broader community, a behavior can be unethical in one context and common practice in another.
For example, while giving a gift to a former supervisor or to a friend is perfectly acceptable, giving a gift to a current supervisor might violate your company regulations and constitute unethical behavior.
Many workplace behaviors are not ethical or unethical per se; the context and the reasoning behind those behaviors largely define their ethicality.
Individuals and aggregates can be unethical at work
Fifth, unethical behavior can occur at any level.
Employees, managers, owners, and executives can all behave unethically.
Likewise, aggregates of people (such as groups/teams, committees, and organizations) can also engage in unethical workplace behavior.
Types of unethical behavior in the workplace
Unethical behavior at work comes in many shapes and forms. The simplest way to categorize unethical behavior in the workplace is to consider both the target of the unethical behavior as well as its severity.
In the table below we outline examples of the multiple types of unethical behavior you may face at work based on the target primarily harmed (society, organization, other employees, self) and on the severity of the behavior (minor/moderate and severe).
Table 1. Examples of types of unethical behavior in the workplace, based on their target and severity.
|Severity of the unethical behavior|
Target of the unethical behavior
|Property deviance and sabotage|
|Self||Alcohol and drug use|
Alcohol and drug abuse
Before adopting this categorization of unethical behavior, it is important to keep in mind three core aspects:
- Some types of unethical behavior can have more than one target. For example, unsafe behavior can put you in danger as well as other employees.
- Each type of unethical behavior can have both direct and indirect targets and consequences. For example, while political deviance can create an unfair advantage over other employees for a promotion, it can also (indirectly) undermine the long term effectiveness of the team/organization due to the promotion of a sub-optimal employee.
- Minor and severe unethical behaviors tend to have minor and severe consequences, respectively. Nevertheless, minor unethical behaviors can also lead to severe consequences and severe misconduct can cause no substantial harm. For example, lack of attention and effort at work – a minor unethical behavior of withdrawal – may lead to unsatisfactory products or services and consequent contract losses – a severe consequence for the organization.
Examples of unethical behavior in the workplace
Each type of unethical behavior can manifest in many different ways. Below, you can find a comprehensive list of the most common examples of unethical behavior in the workplace, by type.
Misleading communications (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and society targeted)
- Advertising a product/service feature that does not exist;
- Making misleading claims to clients or suppliers;
- Omitting facts so that the inferences about a product/service are different from reality;
- Exploiting, without making any explicit or implied claims, an existing false belief about the performance of a product/service;
- Creating unrealistic expectations with deceptive marketing practices;
- Raising prices temporarily to subsequently apply a pseudo-promotion/discount;
- Overpricing products and services.
- Evading taxes;
- Bribing other companies or governmental agencies;
- Fabricating or manipulating quality reports and safety tests;
- Violating or ignoring environmental regulations;
- Doing business with third parties that do not follow local and international regulations (human rights, for example);
- Sharing false information with regulators;
- Endangering clients by keep selling a faulty product or service.
Anti-competitive activity (Severe form of unethical behavior and society targeted)
- Price fixing (discussing and fixing prices to be charged to consumers with competitors);
- Bid rigging (discussing and biasing bids for a contract by, for example, winning contracts in turns, withdrawing bids, or making unreasonably high bids for a competitor to win);
- Market sharing (agreeing with competitors the markets and customers that each one tackles);
- Information sharing that might reduce the competition (price, stock, market, and plans, for example);
- Abusing a dominant market position by selling at a loss to drive competition out;
- Agreeing with competitors to limit production with the intention of raising prices.
Production deviance (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and organization targeted)
- Dragging out work to get overtime payment;
- Claiming more overtime hours than you worked;
- Making mistakes at work on purpose;
- Dragging out work to miss important deadlines;
- Purposely leaving work unfinished so that someone else has to finish it;
- Distracting colleagues instead of working;
- Complaining about unimportant issues at work;
- Being nasty to clients;
- Covering up mistakes with lies;
- Pretending not to know how to do something to avoid a reasonable work request;
- Failing to keep up to date records of your input (for example, your text edits, lines of code added to an app, changes in a machine configuration).
Withdrawal (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and organization targeted)
- Taking excessive personal time for lunch, breaks, and other personal deeds;
- Daydreaming excessively;
- Pretending to be unwell (call in sick just to take a day off, for example);
- Taking an unreasonable time to do a job;
- Working on personal matters during normal work time;
- Coming late to work or finishing the day early consistently and without reasonable justification;
- Playing online or computer games while at work;
- Being aware of a colleague’s unethical behavior and failing to address the issue (gather evidence, talk with the person, report the issue, for example).
Knowledge hiding (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and organization targeted)
- Playing dumb: Pretending that you are not very knowledgeable about something, that you do not understand the question posed, or that you know nothing about the requested information;
- Evasive hiding: Sharing knowledge other than the one requested, sharing incorrect or incomplete information, agreeing to help but never actually doing it, providing misleading promises of future assistance;
- Rationalized hiding: Justifying one’s knowledge hiding with deceptive regulations, supervisors’ rules, and confidentiality concerns.
In the video below, Professor Catherine Connelly (from McMaster University) explains why knowledge hiding is a problematic behavior at work.
Property deviance and sabotage (Severe form of unethical behavior and organization targeted)
- Taking property from the organization without permission;
- Wasting organizational property (materials, services, and supplies, for example);
- Damaging, on purpose, the organization’s equipment, services, or property;
- Placing, on purpose, false or inaccurate information to derail decision-making in the organization;
- Destroying or falsifying important organizational documents;
- Falsifying receipts to get reimbursements of nonexistent expenses;
- Using personal receipts to get reimbursed for business expenses;
- Helping others to take property from the organization.
Political deviance (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Showing favoritism to people who are important for personal goals;
- Gossiping and undermining others to gain personal advantage;
- Creating personal connections with others to push them to work beyond job description;
- Giving or accepting gifts in exchange for special treatment;
- Exploiting peers’ networks for personal gain;
- Competing with colleagues instead of working collaboratively;
- Claiming credit for a colleague’s work;
- Putting forth less effort than colleagues.
Ostracism (Minor/moderate form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Ignoring or avoiding a colleague at work;
- Shutting out a colleague during conversations;
- Not replying to a colleague’s greetings, phone-calls, or emails;
- Giving the silent treatment to a colleague;
- Acting as if a colleague is not present in the room;
- Refusing to talk to a colleague at work;
- Leaving a room when a colleague comes in;
- Ignoring a colleague’s inputs in a work debate/meeting.
Interpersonal deviance (Severe form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Making fun of, embarrassing, or making hurtful comments to a colleague;
- Cursing at or being rude to a colleague;
- Playing unwanted and mean pranks to a colleague;
- Making mean gender, ethnic, or religious comments to a colleague;
- Littering a colleague’s workspace;
- Starting or feeding harmful rumors about a colleague;
- Blaming a colleague for personal mistakes;
- Starting unreasonable arguments with a colleague;
- Making a colleague’s life difficult at work;
- Undermining the efforts of a colleague;
- Putting down a colleague;
- Pushing a colleague to discuss personal issues.
Aggression (Severe form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Hitting a colleague at work;
- Physically or psychologically threatening a colleague;
- Insulting a colleague at work;
- Making obscene gestures to a colleague;
- Engaging in threatening eye contact (aggressive staring, for example);
- Destroying the private property of a colleague;
- Sabotaging the organizational resources a colleague needs to work;
- Purposefully breaking your colleague’s working tools;
- Failing to alert a colleague of an immediate danger;
- Endangering a colleague at work.
Bullying/mobbing (Severe form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Consistently ignoring, humiliating, or ridiculing a colleague at work;
- Making, on a systematic way, offensive remarks and unfounded allegations about a colleague;
- Repeatedly reminding and criticizing a colleague’s past mistakes and errors at work;
- Unfairly accusing or blaming a colleague for something that went wrong at work;
- Persistently pointing out that a colleague is, in your view, incompetent and should quit his/her job;
- Excessively monitoring a colleague’s work;
- Pressuring someone, directly or indirectly, to withhold their rights (such as travel expenses, sick leave);
- Allocating an unreasonable amount of work to a colleague at work, or setting unreachable deadlines and performance expectations;
- Consistently discharging personal frustrations on a colleague.
In the video below, Dr. Gary Namie (from the Workplace Bullying Institute) highlights the behaviors of the four most common bully types that you may find at work:
Abusive leadership (Severe form of unethical behavior and other employees targeted)
- Yelling at supervisees;
- Ridiculing, blaming, making negative comments, being rude, and putting supervisees down;
- Influencing supervisees through threats and intimidation;
- Humiliating supervisees when they fail to reach a desired standard;
- Treating supervisees as competitors or inferiors rather than colleagues/partners;
- Encouraging or pressing supervisees to engage in unethical behavior – to take longer brakes or to falsify reports, for example;
- Lying and breaking promises made to supervisees;
- Isolating supervisees by not allowing contact with others or by blocking access to important information;
- Intentionally providing inaccurate or false information to supervisees;
- Ignoring and diminishing the inputs of supervisees;
- Undermining supervisees’ efforts at work.
Alcohol and drug use/abuse (Minor/moderate to severe form of unethical behavior and self targeted)
- Using illegal drugs at work;
- Using legal or recreational drugs that severely limit productivity and ability to work;
- Being unable to perform normally due to alcohol or drug hangover;
- Consuming alcohol on the job.
Unsafe behavior (Severe form of unethical behavior and self targeted)
- Neglecting to follow safety instructions;
- Failing to read safety instructions/manuals;
- Endangering yourself, coworkers, or customers by ignoring safety procedures;
- Discussing confidential information with unauthorized people.
Nine impressive statistics on the incidence of unethical behavior in the workplace
Unethical behavior in the workplace is far from being an anomaly. In reality, multiple research studies indicate that unethical behavior can be pervasive and frequent in many organizations. Here is a compilation of nine impressive statistics on the incidence of unethical behavior at work.
Abusive leadership and its rippling effects
Abusive leadership is a form of unethical behavior that affects about11% of workers in the Netherlands, 14% of the US workforce, and 34% of workers in Norway.
Knowing that people who are subjected to abusive leaders tend to retaliate by engaging in unethical actions against their organization, leaders, colleagues, or customers is an additional reason to worry.
In fact, abusive leaders can increase the rate of unethical behavior in organizations way beyond their own actions, as they contribute to a work environment conductive of unethical behavior.
Some bosses are bullies, but not all bullies are bosses
Large scale studies show that between 10% and 19% of workers, both in Europe and North America, have recently been victims of bullying at work.
Bosses, direct supervisors, and other higher ranks tend to be the primary source of bullying at work – they account for 65% of bullying reports. Hence the expression “bully boss”. Importantly, however, more than one third of bullying at work (35%) is made by peers and by subordinates.
This suggests that in order to truly tackle the problem of workplace bullying we must pay close attention to all sources of bullying at work: higher ranks, equals, and lower ranks.
If you behave unethically once, you most likely will do it again
About 67% of those who behave unethically once end up doing it repeatedly.
Those who engage in an ongoing pattern of unethical behavior may have a faulty character, but may also be subjected to higher and more consistent pressures to misbehave at work. In fact, individual characteristics and organizational environments are among the strongest forces pushing people towards unethical behavior at work.
Importantly, researchers have found that those who remind themselves of their past misbehavior and those who reflect on the morality of their actions, tend to take restorative measures for their past deeds and restrain from engaging in further unethical behavior.
Most of us have witnessed unethical workplace behavior
47% of American workers have witnessed someone behaving unethically in the last year, and 81% of Nordic workers (Norway, Finland, and Sweden) can easily recall observing at least an episode of unethical behavior in their work life.
This incidence of unethical behavior at work is estimated to cost organizations worldwide more than $4.5 trillions per year.
While large corporate scandals catch our attention, everyone can potentially misbehave at work, even if they are committed to follow high moral and ethical standards.
Personal life choices matter for how ethical we are at work
Some people are more prone to behave unethically than others, and some work environments are more likely to cause unethical behavior than others.
Nevertheless, the most consistent red flag for unethical behavior is living beyond means. Indeed, 42% of people who were found engaging in unethical behavior were living beyond their means.
Thus, a substantial amount of unethical behavior at work isdue to the choices we make in our personal life, not to the demands of our work.
Pressures, unethical behaviors, and professional roles
Large scale studies depict an interesting picture on how unethical are top managers and employees without a management role.
On the one hand, although top managers feel twice the pressure to behave unethically, they are only responsible for approximately 20% of the unethical behavior detected in the workplace. On the other hand, although the remaining employees are accountable for about 80% of the unethical behavior detected in organizations, the losses they provoke tend to be ten times smaller, compared to the losses provoked by top managers.
The media tends to highlight the expensive cases of unethical behavior perpetrated by top managers. However, many of us commit, intentionally or unintentionally, less expensive acts on a daily basis. Accepting that all of us can fail ethically is the first step towards showing integrity at work.
As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined
Engagement in unethical behavior appears to start early in life, as more than half of high school students in the US acknowledge that they have behaved unethically during their studies (for example, by cheating in exams or lying to teachers).
This statistic is particularly troubling since unethical high-school students are up to three times more likely to lack integrity later in life compared to ethical high-schoolers.
The patterns we adopt early in life are likely to continue, unless we take action. Keeping in mind the values, principles, and morals that sustain our integrity in difficult and tempting times is a great starting point to break our questionable patterns.
Undetected unethical behavior is costly
Using complex statistical methods, researchers have recently found that one out of nine large companies in the US commit undetected fraud every year; and that four out of ten violate accounting rules at least once during a business cycle.
This undetected fraud has an annual cost of $275 billion dollars, just in the US.
Such incidence of unethical behavior highlights the importance of having a system in place that promotes adherence to ethical standards and the importance of defining unambiguous, fair, and ethical policies. In fact, research has found that people in organizations with ethical policies written in an unclear and obfuscated way tend to commit more ethical infractions that those with clear and unambiguous policies.
Small unethical behaviors, large costs
Small employee thefts and dishonest behaviors can sum up to large amounts and have serious consequences.
For example, according to the Centre for Retail Research, employee theft in the UK retail sector costed £1.305 millions (about $1.82 millions) just in 2019. In the US, each case of dishonest behavior costed, on average, $1,139.32 to retail organizations in 2019. Globally, in 2015, employee theft was responsible for 39% of retail shrinkage (defined as the difference between book inventory and the actual physical inventory). See the video below for additional statistics on this.
Training, codes of conduct, anonymous telephone and online notification systems, and moral reminders are interventions that have been found to be effective in reducing unethical behavior at work, and that most retail companies are currently adopting.
Intentionally or unintentionally, we can all end up engaging in unethical behavior at work.
With all the labels used to describe unethical workplace behavior, it can be challenging to know how to act ethically at work and when are we crossing ethical boundaries.
Being aware of what unethical behavior is and how prevalent it is, and understanding the different types and manifestations of unethical behavior, is going to help us maintain or even strengthen our moral compass at work.
As always, we thank you for trusting your time with ManagingLifeAtWork.com. Until next time, keep an eye on the multiple manifestations of unethical behavior at work.
Behavior examples unethical
Examples of Unethical Behavior in an Organization
In business, your company's reputation is a big contributor toward your company's success. If your customers perceive you to be an ethically run organization, they are more likely to continue to do business with you and even recommend you to others. On the flip side, if your organization shows obvious signs of unethical behaviors, you may be faced with a public relations problem or ultimately lose business. Attention to some of the following problem areas and promoting an ethical corporate culture can set your business on the right path.
1. Theft of Time and Materials
There is the running joke about stealing pens from the office supply closet for personal use, especially if you get fired, yet the fact is that employee theft is a problem that costs American businesses millions of dollars each year. In some instances, stolen equipment parts or supplies may not add up to much, but in other cases, employees have developed lucrative scams to defraud vendors, redirect funds or write fraudulent checks.
However, employees can also "steal" both time and money from their employer in ways that are less noticeable and initially may even seem to be not a big deal. Padding time sheets with a few extra minutes or bumping up the dollar amount on an expense report may seem perfectly reasonable to some, but they are unethical behaviors that take money from a business owner. Even time spent checking and responding to personal email on a phone, visiting social media on the computer or talking on the phone for non-emergency calls during work time infringes on time meant for the company.
2. Misuse of Company Technology
Technology has changed the way we work, connect with others and spend our leisure time. In addition to personal time spent on technological devices, some workers use company computers or equipment for personal advancement or projects that are non-work related. Searching for another job or doing freelance work online while at a job is unethical behavior. Accessing websites for elicit purposes such as gambling or pornography is not only unethical, but may even be illegal in some situations.
3. Lying About Performance
Taking responsibility for your actions and performance is a sign of an ethical and trustworthy employee. However, many employees lie about having completed an assigned task, color the truth about the success or failure of a sales call or fudge their numbers to make themselves look better among their peers. At times, if the leadership in an organization is not concerned with ethics, they may ask their employees to gloss over an incident or do something secretly to hide an indiscretion.
4. Crossing Sexual Boundaries and Harassment
Sexual harassment is a hot topic issue everywhere, and many HR departments create strict guidelines and offer training to ward off any occurrences in their workplaces. Yet crossing the line and not maintaining appropriate sexual boundaries is also an ethics issue. While both parties in a particular relationship may be consensual, their relationship may not always be appropriate. For example, if a psychologist begins to date one of their patients, it might be considered unethical because they may have taken advantage of the other person during a vulnerable time in their life.
5. Failure to Maintain a Safe Workplace
While not every workplace is inherently dangerous, some work zones require special precautions so that workers are kept safe. Business owners and managers who disregard safety as a priority are putting their employees at risk and operating unethically. Incidents that result in injury could become legal issues resulting in several penalties.
6. Breach of Contract
In some industries where proprietary information is entrusted to employees, workers are often required to sign non-disclosure statements as part of their employment agreement. Non-disclosure contracts stipulate that employees will not share with a competitor (or anyone else) the particulars of a specific technology, design or product, for example. If an employee discloses trade secrets to a competitor or uses the information personally to gain a profit, the employee would be in breach of contract.
Elisabeth Natter is a business owner and professional writer. She has done public relations work for several nonprofit organizations and currently creates content for clients of her suburban Philadelphia communications and IT solutions company. Her writing is often focused on small business issues and best practices for organizations. Her work has appeared in the business sections of bizfluent, azcentral and Happenings Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University.
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