Forget the Enron, Madoff, and the WorldCom scandals that have been grabbing headlines and getting media attention. Employees report that the biggest ethical problems in the workplace are disrespect, favoritism and lack of follow through by those in charge.

According to the latest Employee Attitudes and Opinions Survey released by Watson Wyatt, many employees feel that there are day-to-day broken promises in the workplace. "One of the biggest drivers in commitment to the company is trust in senior management, " says Ilene Gochman. "This survey holds mixed news for employers."

Most employees feel confidence in their immediate supervisors and believe they are ethical. Only 11% state that their boss is dishonest or lacks integrity vs. 72% who see their bosses as ethical. But many employees, over 44%, question the ethics of upper management.

Of those who work for dishonest people, they report its everyday moral lapses that are causing the problems. Employees complain that their opinions are not considered and they are treated like commodities. Too often they observe favoritism and feel that the playing field is not level for all workers. Workers grumble about supervisors who try to say, "yes" to everyone causing confusion and lack of follow through.

This distrust in the top brass may be trouble for businesses that want to retain a loyal workforce. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Professionals, more than eight in ten workers plan to look for a new job as the economy improves.

In addition to questioning the ethics of upper management, employees are frustrated with increased workloads, frozen wages and shrinking benefits due to the economy. While workers understand belt tightening when times are tough, many question the greed of corporate America. The mutual fund scandals, ridiculous CEO pay packages and bankruptcy of large businesses have left many employees asking, "Where's the money?"

"Companies behaving badly has been common during the downturn," according to Jeff Taylor, founder and CEO of Monster.com. "You have the greed of executive management and great inequities from your lowest-paid worker to your highest-paid worker."

Until now, the threat of pink slips has encouraged many workers to run scared and give everything to their jobs. Overtime is simply expected for many salaried workers. Nearly 40 percent of all worker spend at least 50 hours on the job per week. There are rumblings of a backlash, however. Websites like Work To Live.com and Center for a New American Dream.com are gaining momentum.

"In the last 15 years I've had a total of four weeks of vacation," writes one woman in a typical posting on the Work To Live site. "I used to have three people in my office doing what I do. Now there is just me...I can't keep going like this."

Many workers feel traumatized by years of downsizing and the recent downturn to the economy but feel they are paying too high a price. Often doing the work of several people, they find their workday is ever increasing with little time at home.

As the most recent job report from the Labor Department demonstrates hiring, some human resource managers are bracing for a stampede. Sibson Consulting is predicting that up to 16% of workers will leave their jobs in the next few years. Those turnover rates match the late 1990's when employees jumped around every few years.

Smart companies are looking at their leadership and management carefully now. They are also establishing recruitment and retention programs before the coming exodus. Recognition programs that say 'Thank You' and identify the dedicated efforts of employees go a long way to prevent future labor shortages.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro


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