Britain’s Ethics Dividend
by Geoff King, Research Team Leader

Just 100 days to go until Brexit, and uncertainty surrounding the UK’s business landscape continues unabated.

The jury is out over whether this is primarily an opportunity or a threat to the economy in the long-run. Mr Brexit himself, Jacob Rees-Mogg, believes we won’t know the full economic consequences for a very long time, while many forecasters predict economic difficulties in the shorter term, including rising prices for consumers and lost international competitiveness in key sectors.

International competitiveness is central to the Brexit debate, and Brexiteers (and presumably Remainers too) will have been cheered by recent forecasts that have revised down the scale of loss of city jobs.

Indeed, indications suggest that London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre has not yet been relinquished. James Quinn in The Telegraph suggests that – along with factors such as the UK’s skilled workforce and cultural attractions – business culture in the UK is one of the factors that continues to drive London’s competitiveness versus other financial centres.

And the intangible business culture across the UK does seem to provide a potential competitive edge, according to recent research by ComRes for the Institute of Business Ethics.

 

Workplace Ethics
ComRes surveyed more than 6,000 employees across eight European countries. Out of these eight countries, UK employees are the least likely to have witnessed illegal or unethical practices at work in the past year. These practices include people being treated inappropriately or unethically, misreporting hours worked, and safety violations.

Proportion who in the past year at work have been aware of conduct by their employer or colleagues that violated either the law or the organisation's ethical standards

 

In cases where UK employees had been aware of misconduct at work, most reported the incidents (67%) - again, this is a higher proportion than in other European countries.

Proportion of employees who are aware of legal or ethical violations who raised or spoke up about concerns with management, another appropriate person, or through other mechanisms

 

Related to this, two-thirds of UK employees say their organisation has a mechanism for reporting misconduct confidentially (64%). Of other European countries, only in Ireland did more than half say their organisation has such a system (55%), while only a third of French employees say this is the case (33%).

Proportion who say their organisation provides employees with a means of reporting misconduct confidentially, without giving their name or other information that could easily identify them

 

It was encouraging to uncover other favourable features of UK business culture, such as a lower proportion (only 12%) who have felt pressured to compromise organisational standards of ethical conduct (16% across Europe), and more than half (56%) who said their organisation provided training on standards of ethical conduct (39% across Europe).

In a recent ComRes poll for the Daily Express, more than half of voters thought the UK should position itself post-Brexit as ‘the lowest-tax, business-friendliest country in Europe’ (65%). Perhaps the UK should also be seeking to promote its high standards of workplace ethics and transparency as a means of trying to insure itself against - what both sides in the Brexit debate concede is - a highly uncertain outlook.

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