Ethics at Work Index: 84.0
The IBE surveyed South African employees for the first time in 2021 and the results paint a positive picture of ethics in the workplace in the country. Many organisations seem to have invested in their ethics programme and the four building blocks considered in this survey appear to be commonly available to employees. Employees in South Africa also have positive perceptions of the ability of their organisation and their managers to engage on ethics with stakeholders, internal and external.
Perhaps because organisations in South Africa have been very clear about their commitment to ethics and therefore set high expectations in their employees, South African respondents are also among the most likely to recognise instances of unethical behaviour or the pressures that might be put on them to compromise those standards. Even though the perceptions around the ability of line managers to set a good example for ethics and explain its importance are generally very positive, a relatively high percentage of employees in South Africa also say that their line manager rewards employees who achieve good results even if through practices that are ethically questionable. Looking ahead, discrimination or bias in the workplace is the issue that South African employees are more likely to be concerned about.
- In 2021, the vast majority (80%) of South African employees say that honesty is practised always or frequently in their organisation. However, this figure is the lowest among all countries surveyed, jointly with the Netherlands.
- South African employees are among the most likely to say that they have felt pressured to compromise their organisation’s standards of behaviour (16%). Only their colleagues in Portugal are significantly more likely to say so (21%). The main sources of pressure in South Africa are time pressures/unrealistic deadlines (40%) and following their boss’s orders (27%).
- Of all countries surveyed, South African employees are the most likely to say that they have been aware of misconduct at work (28% vs 18% global average).
- South Africa is one of the countries where employees are most likely to raise their concerns about misconduct when they become aware of it. 67% of employees who have been aware of misconduct in South Africa raised their concerns, compared to a global average of 57%.
- The main reasons why South African employees do not raise their concerns are that they felt they might jeopardise their job (48%) and that they did not want to be seen as a troublemaker by management (38%).
- 64% of South African employees that raised their concerns about misconduct say that they are satisfied with the outcome after speaking up. The global average is 62%.
- In South Africa, 37% of those who raised concerns about misconduct they have been aware of, also report experiencing retaliation for doing so. This figure is relatively low, especially compared to some other countries.
The ethics programme
- Among all the countries surveyed, employees in South Africa are the most likely to be aware of three of the four building blocks of an ethics programme considered, namely written standards of ethical business conduct (87%), a means of reporting misconduct confidentially (75%) and an information helpline where they can get advice about behaving ethically (70%). They are also among the most likely to say that they are aware of ethics training being offered in their organisation (73%), alongside their US colleagues (74%).
Embedding ethics through a supportive environment
- Employees in South Africa generally have positive views of their line manager’s commitment to ethics. For example, 79% of them say that their line manager explains the importance of honesty and ethics in the work they do, compared to a global average of 65%. However, 39% also think that their line manager rewards employees who get good results even if they use practices that are ethically questionable, which is among the highest percentages recorded in all countries.
- Employees in South Africa are also among the most likely to say that their organisation acts responsibly in all its business dealings (84% vs 76% global average) and that it lives up to its stated policy of social responsibility (78% vs 71% global average).
- Similarly, they are also likely to have positive views about how their organisation engages with employees on ethics. They are among the most likely to say that people in their organisation know what is expected of them in terms of ethical behaviour (88% vs 78% global average) and that issues of right and wrong are discussed in staff meetings (75% vs 58% global average).
- Finally, they are among the most likely to say that their organisation disciplines employees who violate its standards of behaviour (80% vs 63% global average).
Current and future issues
- 65% of employees in South Africa say that, considering their organisation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, their opinion on how ethically their organisation behaves has improved. This is by far the highest percentage recorded in all countries surveyed. Only 8% say that it has worsened, while 26% say that it has stayed the same.
- With regards to the future of the workplace, discrimination or bias in the workplace is the issue that South African employees are more likely to be concerned about (66% vs 41% global average). It is followed by the loss of interpersonal interactions due to the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown (65% vs 44% global average).