Employees given insufficient ethical support

Guy Somerset

Senior Communications Advisor

Victoria University of Wellington

Only 29% of New Zealand employees surveyed say their organisation has a comprehensive ethics programme, while 10% say their organisation has none at all.

This Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees – Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom originated from the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) in 2005. It has now for the first time included New Zealand. The IBE’s national partner is Victoria University of Wellington’s Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership.

Of more than 2,000 employees surveyed across the three countries, 752 were in New Zealand.

The survey asks employees how they experience ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day working lives. It also looks at whether they have witnessed misconduct, whether they have reported it, and what stops them doing so.

Key findings

The IBE identified four key building blocks needed for a comprehensive ethics programme:

  • Code of Ethics – 70% of New Zealand employees said their organisation has written standards of ethical business conduct (compared with 73% in Australia and 69% in the UK)
  • Speak Up/Whistleblowing process – 56% have a means of reporting misconduct confidentially (compared with 64% in the UK and 61% in Australia)
  • Advice line – Less than half (46%) have access to an advice or information helpline about behaving ethically (compared with 52% in Australia and 51% in the UK)
  • Ethics training – Only 51% are given training on ethical conduct (compared with 59% in Australia and 56% in the UK).

The survey asked employees how their organisation supported them to ‘do the right thing’. It highlights the positive impact on employees of having a comprehensive ethics programme. For example:

  • Across the three countries, 85% of employees in organisations with a comprehensive ethics programme say their organisation acts responsibly in all its business dealings. This compares with 54% in organisations without a programme.

  • In organisations with a comprehensive ethics programme, 79% of employees who had been aware of misconduct, spoke up about misconduct. In comparison, only 32% of those with similar awareness within organisations without a programme spoke out.
  • Line managers in organisations with an ethics programme set a better example. In such organisations, 83% of employees say their line manager sets a good example of ethical business behaviour. This compares with 38% in organisations without an ethics programme.
Philippa Foster-Back,
Director of the Institute of Business Ethics
Dr Karin Lasthuizen,
Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership,
Victoria University of Wellington


IBE Director Philippa Foster Back, launched the survey findings in New Zealand in late November. She says: “The New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) has issued recommendations for listed companies to have a code of ethics and training programme, and these results show the value of these programmes. Not only do they support employees to do the right thing, they also provide assurance to stakeholders – like investors and customers – that the organisation is operating sustainably, with business ethics in mind.”

Professor Karin Lasthuizen says that in her work as Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership, she aims to facilitate a transparent and ethically sound business sector in New Zealand.

“The facts and figures in this report give important insights on employees’ attitudes to, and views on, workplace ethics,” says Professor Lasthuizen.

“It worries me that, although a majority of respondents in New Zealand are positive about the behaviour of their line manager, 10% still say they have felt some form of pressure to compromise their organisation’s standards of ethical behaviour. Employees who have felt pressured to compromise ethical standards are more likely to have negative perceptions of the ability of managers to promote ethics at the workplace.

“Ethical leadership is key, to establish a supportive organisational culture and to help mitigate the risks that can lead to organisational failures. Clarifying the organisation’s ethical expectations and setting clear boundaries for behaviour are important tasks for management, especially in light of these findings.”

For full details, refer to  ‘Ethics at Work: 2018 Survey of Employees – New Zealand‘ 

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