Workplace Ethics Begin with the Boss

A new survey of office workers looks at what's going wrong in the workplace, from harassment to embezzlement and theft. Supervisors often set the standard on how to behave, the study finds.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Corporate honesty is the subject of our Wednesday report on the workplace. A new study examines employees who embezzle and co-workers who don't behave.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD: There's plenty of bad behavior that goes on inside companies, from sexual harassment to smaller potatoes: employees who steal post-it notes, bags of coffee or computer gear. Workers interviewed for the survey said the top factor promoting ethical behavior was the example set by their managers.

SHARON ALLEN: I think we were even surprised at how overwhelming the survey came back on the impact that managers and supervisors have.

ARNOLD: Sharon Allen is the chairman of the board for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, which did the survey. She says a surprising number of workers observed their supervisors doing something pretty bad. Twenty-one percent saw them harassing other workers either verbally, sexually or racially. She says when you combine that with the manager's influence...

ALLEN: Then it really does accumulate into something very significant, I believe, to all of us in thinking about how we act in the workplace, how we set an example for those around us, particularly if we're in a supervisory role.

ARNOLD: Topping the list of bad behavior: managers who played favorites and took credit for other people's work. Allen says another big factor was what she calls a healthy work and life balance. She says overworked and overstressed employees are more likely to get into trouble.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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