Only 4 in 10 Employees Report Unethical Behavior – Here’s How to Fix It


by Emily Wetherell and Ryan Pendell

Story Highlights

  • Fewer employees are reporting unethical behavior today than before COVID-19
  • Employees report unethical behavior more when they trust management
  • Ethics should be part of everyday business conversations

A recent Gallup analysis shows that only 40% of employees with knowledge of unethical behavior report it, a rate seven percentage points lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historically, our research shows that the overwhelming majority of employees plan to report unethical behavior. In fact, a 2020 survey found that nine in 10 employees said they would report unethical behavior at work if they saw it in the future. But right now, only four out of 10 actually do.

The gap between employees who to say they will report and those who in fact report is most important among individual contributors, but it is true for people, project managers and even leaders.

why is it important: Your organization may have its values ​​on the wall or in the employee handbook, but that’s no guarantee against unethical behavior and silent observers who let it go unchallenged. Employees can withhold information that could affect your brand, your likelihood of litigation, and employee trust.

How can leaders boost ethical reporting?

Gallup discovered one key thing leaders can do to increase the rate at which employees report unethical behavior: build employee confidence that leaders will do the right thing.

When employees strongly agreed that if they raised an ethics or integrity concern their employer would do the right thing, their reporting rate was 24 points higher than employees who reported it. make do not strongly agree that their employer would do the right thing if they raised a concern.

Gallup discovered one key thing leaders can do to increase the rate at which employees report unethical behavior: build employee confidence that leaders will do the right thing.

What could explain this substantial increase in the number of declarations? People are motivated to act when they are convinced that their actions will make a difference. Employees may be aware of inappropriate behavior, but if they don’t believe their voice counts or fear retaliation, they are unlikely to speak up. Leaders cannot simply rely on rare “heroes” who are ready to speak out against all odds; they must create an environment and culture that assures people that speaking up will lead to leadership action.

How can leaders build employee confidence in ethics?

To build ethical corporate cultures, leaders must make a serious commitment to building trust:

  • Measure it. Ask your employees if they believe leaders will do the right thing when faced with an ethical issue by including Gallup’s GS5 in your next employee survey. Use this data as a baseline to define the rest of your organization’s ethics and compliance strategy.
  • lead by example. What makes an employee strongly agree that they know you will do the right thing? They saw you do it. Again and again. They have witnessed your character firsthand through your long-term habit of ethical behavior. And be sure to share examples of tough decisions for leaders to make, along with the context, including how those decisions affected the organization in the long run.
  • Bring ethics into the conversation. Followers capture what’s important to you when you talk about it. Ethics should not be implicit or assumed – they should be part of everyday business conversations. And ethical accountability must be “the way we do business” all the way down the management chain so that important concerns are escalated to key leaders.
  • Prevent retaliation. You can’t reassure your employees enough when it comes to reporting unethical behavior. People need to know that someone with authority – a supervisor, manager, executive – is protecting them. And they need to know that there are also institutional processes and procedures to protect them.
  • Define and communicate reporting procedures. Every employee should know the reporting procedures by heart so that speaking up is transparent and intuitive. If you don’t have procedures in place, now is the time to define them. If you already have procedures in place, now is the time to encourage all employees, including leaders and managers, to use them.

Create an organization where doing the right thing is encouraged.


Emily Wetherell is a workplace researcher at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell is a workplace science writer at Gallup.


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