Work-Life Balance, Superior's Actions Strongly Influence Ethical Culture

By Verschoor, Curtis C. | Strategic Finance, June 2007 | Go to article overview
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Work-Life Balance, Superior's Actions Strongly Influence Ethical Culture


Verschoor, Curtis C., Strategic Finance


Although it is well known that the quality of an employee's personal life strongly influences job satisfaction and related productivity, the 2007 Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Ethics & Workplace survey shows that work-life balance also promotes ethical behavior in the workplace. In addition, this study of more than 1,000 employed adults, performed by Harris Interactive, also reinforces previous studies showing that other important factors in fostering an ethical organizational culture are the behavior of management and direct supervisors and positive reinforcement for ethical behavior.

According to the study, 91% of all employed adults interviewed agreed that workers are more likely to behave ethically at work when they have a good balance between their job and their personal life. Sharon Allen, chairman of the board at Deloitte & Touche USA, notes that people who invest all their time and energy into their careers may become totally dependent on their jobs for every satisfaction in life. She says, "This makes it harder [for employees] to make a good choice when faced with an ethical dilemma if they believe it will impact their professional career."

Findings in the Deloitte survey also reveal the critically important influence that management and supervisors have in promoting ethical workplace behavior by all workers. In other words, unethical actions by management are likely to result in ethical mis- deeds by lower-level employees. According to the Deloitte survey, employed adults ranked the behavior of management (42%) and direct supervisors (36%) as the top two factors that help to foster an ethical workplace environment. Conversely, only 16% ranked ethics training as a factor that has a positive influence on promoting ethical behavior. Allen explains, "Management and leadership have a huge responsibility in setting examples for their organizations and living the values they preach if they want to sustain a culture of ethics."

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When asked the primary reasons that people make unethical decisions in the workplace, 80% of respondents cited a lack of personal integrity, and 60% cited job dissatisfaction. Of somewhat lesser importance were causes such as the prospect of financial reward like a bonus or salary increase (44%), pressure to meet goals (41%), and ignorance of the code of conduct (39%).

The Deloitte survey reveals some interesting aspects of what employees consider to be acceptable behavior in the workplace. More than half (57%) consider dating a subordinate to be okay, a surprising 72% consider it acceptable to use company technology for personal use, 66% believe it is acceptable to take a sick day when you aren't actually ill, and 63% approve of asking a colleague to do a personal favor such as picking up dry cleaning or walking your dog. The study suggests that the relatively high level of acceptability of these actions may be due to the fact that employees don't have enough time outside of work or haven't achieved a proper work-life balance.

For example, 55% of respondents cite a flexible work schedule as the second most important factor leading to job satisfaction, behind only compensation (63%). This substantiates the greater opportunities that part-time workers have to enjoy flexible working hours. Thirty-three percent of full-time employees feel that their jobs don't offer sufficient opportunities to meet work-life needs, but only 23% of part-time employees feel that way. And 68% of full-time employees wish they had more time to spend with friends and family, compared to only 38% of part-time employees.

The most frequent positive ethical behavior that employees report observing from a supervisor is giving proper credit where it is due, noted by 69% of respondents.

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