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The 2023 Ethical Culture Report: Why This & Why Now

In January, Ethisphere published the 2023 Ethical Culture Report—Lessons from the Pandemic: Accountability Reigns and Gen Z Refrains. It is a deep dive into our culture survey database of more than two million responses, which provides a level of insight into corporate culture that is second to none. This year’s report answers some important questions: how has corporate culture fared over the course of the pandemic, and how has that experience produced different results for different age groups?

We feel a real obligation here at Ethisphere to share our insights so that all can learn. That’s part of the founding ethos of the business. So much has been written about what the pandemic is going to do to the future of work, what the next wave of work looks like, and what we have learned over the course of the pandemic. And so, given the size of our dataset, we thought it was a natural opportunity to cut the data to see what happened before March 2020 and what has happened since.

We also wanted to think about what lessons the data tells us about what managing the workforce of the future is going to look like. Because our dataset is as big as it is, we were also able to look at our survey results by generation, and that produced some really interesting results.

Looking at ethical culture data from a generational standpoint was a really interesting way to approach it. What it told us was something that that we have been talking about for a while now, that the manager continues to be a really important part of advancing ethical culture. That is especially true in the way that we prepare our managers to lead, what we have expected of our managers over the course of the pandemic, and the way people need to prepare to manage the generation of the future.

We said in the report that the kids are not alright. There is a big cohort of the youngest members of our workforce that need more support from their managers, and we’ve got to be prepared for that. We have to be prepared to lead with an open door, and for those new voices in the workplace to challenge us. Members of Gen X, for example, had a very different attitude when it came to what they expected from their managers when they came into the workforce, than the people who are coming in now. So as compliance professionals, and as people who are interested in the topic of safe and open speak up culture, we really need to think through how to prep managers for the kids that are coming out of college. We’ve got to get ahead of that.

Why Now?
The timing of this report is as important as it is intentional. Since 2020, we have done a lot of webcasting and visual data presentations about our ethical culture data and received encouraging feedback from the BELA (Business Ethics Leadership Alliance) community, as well as our various event attendees.

Now, we wanted to give people something tangible that they could bring directly to their internal audiences. We want ethics and compliance professionals to be able to walk into their CEO’s office, or into their next Board meeting, or into a meeting with their chief people officer and say: here’s what the data is saying, and how much of this are we seeing inside our own datasets? Is our internal data saying something similar? Is our engagement survey data saying something similar to what Ethisphere is saying? How are we measuring culture? And importantly, what are we doing with those results?

All of those are real opportunities now, particularly as we think about what the working environment of the future looks like. If a business is going to be a hybrid environment, that creates one set of expectations for managers. If everybody is coming back into the office, that creates a different set of expectations. And if a company allows people to continue to work remotely, that is a third set of expectations for managers.

To that end, the 2023 Ethical Culture Report thinks through all of those pieces so that those who read it can ask of themselves what their internal data says compared to what Ethisphere’s data is saying. It enables them to ask how they can use this data to make things better for their workforce, and to give them the opportunity to tell their employers what they are thinking. The fundamental message of this report: that all of this information is a gift. It is all something you can accomplish great things with. You just have to have the right attitude.

Culture Matters More Than Ever
As we pulled this report together at this particular moment in time, we looked at the generational data we gathered as a way to gain insight into the expectations of the workforce of the future. As we look at some of the things that are happening out in the world, especially the economic situation, the fact of the matter is that the average company today has somewhere between 70 and 80% of its value tied up in intangible assets. Value isn’t stuff for most companies, it’s brand value. It’s goodwill. It’s reputation. Its’ intellectual property. And most of all, it’s people. And how do you hold on to your best asset? Its culture.

That is the reason why we are seeing investors care so much about this. It is the reason why we are seeing future employees care so much about this. And it is the reason why we are seeing regulators mention it as much as they have been recently. There is an immense amount of focus from board members, investors, regulators, and future employees on some really key questions: Are you nurturing the right kind of culture? Are you supporting the right kind of culture? Are you growing the right kind of culture?

It is incredible to me—just incredible— how the business community has coalesced around this question of culture. For a lot of people, that is kind of amorphous. What is culture? To me, it is easy to measure. Do your people know what’s expected of them? Are they willing to raise their hand when they have a question? And how do they feel about those processes? Those are the fundamental questions that you ought to be able to answer about the organizational ecosystem in which your people are operating. And if the answer to any one of those questions is something your organization does not know or have, then that is the cue to solve for that.

It is enormously expensive to replace a mid mid level executive—I have read the costs can be as high as a million dollars every time somebody turns over. And why do people leave jobs? More often than not, they’re not leaving the job. They’re leaving their manager. So really, it all comes down to culture, that fundamental linchpin around which everything else spins. It is absolutely measurable, if you’ve got the appetite to do it. And with the right data and the right insight, you can build an ethical culture that will make your organization more resilient, valuable, and sustainable. Strong ethics is good business. And the latest culture data proves it, yet again.

The 2023 Ethical Culture Report— Lessons from the Pandemic: Accountability Reigns and Gen Z Refrains can be downloaded here. This content originally appeared in video form as an episode of the Ethicast. To watch that episode, please click here.

This article is from the Winter 2023 issue of Ethisphere Magazine. To download a full PDF of the issue, click here.

To read the second article in this three-part series, click here. To read the third article in this three-part series, click here.

Erica Salmon Byrne is the CEO for Ethisphere, where she has responsibility for the organization’s data and services business and works with Ethisphere’s community of clients to assess ethics and compliance programs and promote best practices across industries. Erica also serves as the Chair of the Business Ethics Leadership Alliance; she works with the BELA community to advance the dialogue around ethics and governance and deliver practical guidance to ethics and compliance practitioners around the globe.

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