What is the ethical issue?

Understanding how employees make decisions is important for organisations of all sizes in order to ensure the measures they have in place to promote ethical behaviour are appropriate. As a result, companies are increasingly investing resources in the development of an ethics programme that brings their ethical values to life and provides guidance to their staff on how to tackle ethical dilemmas.

Naturally, all companies run the risk of facing ethical issues or running into reputational problems due to the behaviour of employees. Even companies with a mature ethics programme are not immune from lapses or even major ethical scandals that pose clear questions about the effectiveness of these programmes. If codes of ethics are not effectively embedded into workplace culture or decision-making, be it through performance management, incentives or other methods, then companies increase the chances of unethical behaviour permeating through the company.

Research has highlighted how the culture of a workplace, particularly if that culture is considered to contribute to the way decisions are made, can impact the ethical behaviours of employees. Individuals believe that the expectations placed on them in their professional role, combined with a culture which is possibly not values-led, can result in setting aside ethical principles. If these behaviours are prevalent in an organisation, it greatly increases the risk of scandals and reputational issues arising.


IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • There are ways in which organisations can induce positive and ethical behaviour. Organisational expectations are key, and doing the right thing as an instinctive reaction and ensuring high personal moral standards should be outlined early as an expectation from employers. Following this, ethics needs to become part of the reward, recognition and promotion system.
  • In day-to-day work, where decisions are made and tasks are completed, organisations need to be aware of how time pressures can negatively impact ethics in decision-making and how internal communications and language can influence workplace culture.


Further resources


Engaging young people with business ethics webinar recording

28 September 2023

Publication type: Good practice guide

Ethical Decision-Making

21 September 2023


Post CBI, post Casey, post #MeToo – is now the real time for change?

Read the latest blog from IBE Deputy Director, Rachael Saunders.

27 April 2023


A little help

IBE’s Associate Director, Prof. Chris Cowton, reflects on the role of ethical decision-making models, the subject of our latest research report.

22 March 2023

IBE news

More top firms than ever before have a code of ethics but staff need more support

20 March 2023

Publication type: Report

FTSE 100 Ethical Decision-Making Models: good questions, good answers?

This report analyses the ethical decision-making models contained in the codes of ethics of the UK’s leading companies, the FTSE 100.

20 March 2023

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2022

This resource provides an analysis of the year’s news trends and the issues and sectors that featured the most.

12 January 2023


Is your business ethical - and do your stakeholders think so?

Listen in as Survey Director, Christopher Cowton shares his thoughts on our latest survey, IBE Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2022.

30 June 2022

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2022

Businesses and UK politicians must do better at demonstrating their ethical credentials if they are to win back the confidence of the British public - the 2022 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics.

29 June 2022


The Power of Trust

View our webinar recording.

27 June 2022

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2021

This resource presents an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses, as well as the positive business ethics stories, that the IBE recorded for its media monitoring exercise in 2021. It provides an analysis of the year’s trends and the issues and sectors that featured most frequently.

24 January 2022


Employees’ voices: a glass half full

The results of our latest Ethics at Work survey bring us some good news, but also some red flags that cannot be ignored as organisations shape their ethical agenda for the future.

08 December 2021


The right question

Read the latest blog by Mark Chambers, IBE's Associate Director (Governance).

10 November 2021

IBE news

Institute of Business Ethics research suggests companies need to do more to embed ethical behaviour

04 November 2021

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work: 2021 International Survey of Employees

This survey is the only one of its kind, covering 13 countries over four continents, that provides real insight into employees’ views on ethics across all sectors and job roles.

04 November 2021


Every crisis is an opportunity

Read our latest guest blog by Sally March, Jane Mitchell, Robert Smith and Ruth Steinholtz.

13 October 2021

Publication type: Report

FTSE 100 Codes of Ethics: room for improvement

An assessment of the Codes of Ethics of the UK’s leading companies.

09 August 2021


Purpose and the Pandemic

View the recording of our webinar.

02 June 2021


We All Make Mistakes – But Can We Learn from Them?

In our latest guest blog, Corinne Fenech, discusses why unethical decision making is not above any of us, why this matters, and what each of us can do about it.

26 May 2021


Ethics challenges for new employees and those changing jobs

Read our latest guest blog by By Kirk O. Hanson, Coauthor of Rotten: Why Corporate Misconduct Continues And What To Do About It.

12 May 2021

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