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What the Data Says—Pressure: Achieve at all Costs?

Creating and maintaining an ethical corporate culture can sometimes feel like taming a hydra: you get anti-bribery protections in place, only to find an issue with conflicts of interest in your supply chain, just as you finally tackle perverse incentives in your compensation plans…

You get the picture.

Erica Salmon Byrne, Ethisphere

That’s part of the reason we are launching a series of blog posts to over the next few weeks to dive into the insights gleaned from the dataset we have built through our Ethical Culture & Perceptions Assessments. With current answers from over 200,000 employees representing both public and private companies, in over 47 countries and from dozens of industries, Ethisphere now has enough data to identify major trends in corporate culture across a wide variety of organizations. This week, we’ll focus on one of the most important of our eight pillars of culture: pressure.

Click here to see our recent webcast on corporate culture, including slides and a downloadable infographic.

Widespread Pressure Across Companies

Some of the most consistent data points we find across companies relate to how employees experience pressure to compromise standards in order to hit goals. In response to the question “Do you experience pressure to compromise the Code, the law or company policy to achieve business objectives?” 23% of respondents in our dataset respond yes. Of that group, 65% claimed the pressure they felt was moderate, strong or declined to answer.

In other words, nearly a quarter of the employees we have surveyed feel pressure to compromise ethics to hit business objectives, and one in six employees have felt that pressure significantly. The most common sources of that pressure are middle managers, senior leadership, and direct managers. However, there is variation by industry. In some companies, co-workers are a top–three cited source, especially where goals are established for groups or teams; in the hospitality industry, the most likely source of pressure is customers.

Pressure Rarely Explicit

It’s important to note that the source of pressure is very rarely a manager who is actively encouraging employees to swindle or steal. Much more common are managers who are simply extremely focused on business objectives such as sales targets or production quotas, and who are neglecting to emphasize equally (or at all) the importance of hitting objectives the right way. Ask yourself: at your organization, do you emphasize that messaging when you roll out the year’s objectives? If not, chances are there are portions of your employee base that are feeling pressured to cut corners to make those objectives.

Demographic breakdowns of employees make this information even more insightful. Clients can pinpoint specific sectors of employees – in some instances by geography, or often by their tenure at the company or job function – who are feeling pressure, and respond appropriately. These demographics allow tailor-made responses, such as retraining managers in a particular region or examining communications in a certain business function. Specific, informed responses are more efficient with resources and effective at reducing pressure.

Our Ethical Culture & Perceptions Assessments have given us a treasure trove of data that we’re proud to deploy to help our clients. In a few weeks, I’ll be back with a post on what we have learned about managers and culture.

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