Ethics and Compliance Initiative CEO On The Dispiriting Trend of Retaliation

Pat Harned, CEO of Ethics and Compliance Initiative
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Pat Harned, CEO of the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI), talks to us about the organization’s business ethics survey, trends in ethics—both good and bad, and more.

We also provide certification of practitioners, who are interested in demonstrating that they have the knowledge base to build and sustain what we call a high-quality ethics and compliance program.

Let’s talk about that global business ethics survey. What were some of the major findings, the major issues that we’re seeing in the business world today with culture? As you stated at the beginning, it’s obviously kind of a hot topic these days. So what are some of the big things to take away?

It is a hot topic. Sadly, I think we’ll never reach a place where there’s not a need for a nonprofit in the ethics and compliance world, in the ethics and compliance space. Our global business ethics survey this year is the first year we’re doing this, but we are releasing a report every quarter.

And so, it was a good news, even worse news story. We’ve been doing this study since 1994, and we were glad to see that the extent to which employees are observing what they consider to be misconduct, whether it’s a violation of their company code or a violation of the law, has declined. It’s almost at the lowest levels we’ve seen since we started doing the study. The other very good indicator that we saw was that employees are more willing and have been more willing to report misconduct when they’ve observed it.

So when we talk with business leaders, very often, we say, you can’t prevent misconduct from happening in your workplace. As long as you’re hiring people, you will have misconduct but what really matters is, when people observe it, are they going to tell management about it so that they can step in and intervene. And the fact that misconduct is at its low, close to its lowest but reporting has reached a historic high is a very good sign.

Did anything that really kind of popped out that made you think, “Wow, I really didn’t think that was the case. But apparently, it is”?

Well, there were two things that were surprising and yet disappointing. You know, we’ve often seen that when reporting rises in an individual organization, or on a broader level, when reporting rises, retaliation also rises. So we knew that if reporting was going to be at an all-time high, retaliation probably would be as well, but they tend to rise and fall in tandem. And what we saw this time was that, while reporting rose, retaliation rose much higher. It doubled since the last time that we feel did the survey. And that was very surprising and very troubling because retaliation is often a leading indicator of culture issues ahead for an organization.

The second thing that we saw that was surprising and also disappointing is that you would think, and in this environment where on the heels of pretty much every major corporate scandal that happens, later you hear a word that there was a culture problem. People couldn’t raise concerns. There was tremendous pressure. And you would think that, because of that, there would be more of an emphasis on culture, more efforts to strengthen cultures in businesses across the country, and we’ve not seen that. So if anything, the extent to which people are saying that they work in strong ethical cultures hasn’t changed. And we would have hoped that that would be on the increase, because the stronger your culture, the less likely it is that your company will experience problems.

When you say retaliation, what’s an example of that?

The primary thing that people say, when they experience retaliation is usually more social in nature. Their people treat them differently on their team. They feel excluded from whether it’s social activities, or even more formal teaming projects. People who report say that part of the retaliation is that they start to feel a cold shoulder or excluded from those things. But that said, there is also a strong proponent of people who say that their manager has withheld rewards, held them back from advancement.

We can’t measure whether you were fired because you had to be employed to take the survey. But certainly, the data suggests that if retaliation is at an extreme high, it’s likely that people are also are being fired for coming forward and raising concerns.

Part two of the interview coming next week. 

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