National employee survey uncovers key weaknesses in UK workplace culture

“Businesses need a better understanding of their company culture to avoid reputational risk” say responsible business experts GoodCorporation

Over a quarter of the UK workforce believe their managers would bend the rules if necessary to get the job done, according to a survey by Opinium for business ethics advisers GoodCorporation, published today.

The survey also found that only half the UK workforce felt able to say that senior managers really believe in doing the right thing at work, with one in five actively disagreeing. Although trust in immediate managers to do the right thing is higher.

The findings are published in GoodCorporation’s white paper Measuring Ethical Culture, which examines the need for businesses to establish a strong corporate culture and the risks to those that fail to do so. As the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) states in its Proposed Revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code, poor culture is a business risk in itself. For this reason, the FRC recommends that boards should seek assurances about the health of their company’s culture by ‘taking the temperature’ on a regular basis. Yet in a survey of the FTSE 350 , only 19% of board members felt that the primary accountability for culture sat with them.

Measuring Ethical Culture draws on the findings of a nationwide survey, covering 2000 UK workers from a representative range of backgrounds and seniority levels. The survey examined responses to 25 carefully chosen statements that GoodCorporation has identified as the key indicators of an ethical corporate culture.

In addition to the findings around bending the rules and doing the right thing, the survey also found that almost one fifth of the UK labour force said they would not feel comfortable raising issues of poor or unethical behaviour, with an equal proportion feeling that if they did raise an issue, it would not be dealt with fairly.

However, more encouragingly three fifths of the workers sampled think their organisation has a strong ethical culture (59%) and are proud to tell people who they work for (60%).

Commenting on the white paper and the findings of the survey, GoodCorporation director Debbie Ramsay said: “Establishing the culture, values and ethics of a company is a core responsibility for the board. Yet very few take steps to review their corporate culture, let alone assess whether or not it encourages the sort of behaviours that will protect the business from risk, and prevent the scandals we have seen in recent years, not least Volkswagen, Tesco, Toshiba and Rolls-Royce. Measuring Ethical Culture explores why this matters, using the results of the survey to create an ethical culture benchmark against which businesses can assess their company’s performance.”

Ramsay also noted that “the impact of poor culture on share price is noticeable and long-term. This is why shareholders, boards and senior managers must put good culture at the centre of long-term business success.”

The paper reveals GoodCorporation’s methodology for undertaking an Ethical Culture Healthcheck and explains how a net ethical culture score can be calculated using the survey findings to create a national benchmark against which a company’s culture can be judged good, average or poor.

Note to editors:
o Debbie Ramsay or fellow director Leo Martin are available for interview or further comment.

o Company size can be significant when it comes to establishing an ethical company culture. Employees in micro (73%) and small businesses (68%) were more likely to report being proud to say they worked for their organisations than employees in large organisations (57%).

o Employees were more likely to report being treated with respect in micro organisations (76%) and small organisations (75%) than in large organisations (67%).

o The difference in response between managers (308 senior management responses) and employees (1,378) was also marked, with managers around twenty percentage points more likely to say their organisation has a strong ethical culture.

GoodCorporation is a leading practitioner in assessing, measuring and advising on responsible management practices, with expertise in assessing the policies and processes an organisation has in place to manage ethical risk. We have worked in a wide range of commercial and public-sector organisations including 17 FTSE 100 companies and 9 CAC40 organisations as well as SMEs and not-for-profit organisations.

For further information, please contact Sally McGeachie at or 020 8877 5300.