Employees value ethics but find policies confusing: Survey

Most Singapore employees want to work for companies with good ethics but they are concerned that compliance policies are too vague and inconsistent, a survey has found. It noted that this concern has resulted partly in a lack of understanding of ethics among some millennial employees.

While 92 per cent of Singapore respondents said they want to work for a company with a strong compliance culture, 40 per cent believed their firms' code of conduct had little impact on how people behaved and 42 per cent thought their senior management would ignore unethical behaviour to achieve revenue targets.

This mismatch is more apparent among millennials - those aged 25 to 34 - noted the survey, which polled 1,698 employees of all age groups in 14 Asia-Pacific countries or areas, including 105 here, between November and February.

"In the Asia-Pacific, 83 per cent of millennials - 69 per cent of millennials in Singapore - said they were unwilling to work for, or would leave an organisation involved in bribery or corruption," said Ms Belinda Tan, EY's partner for fraud investigation and dispute services. "Yet they do not fully understand what constitutes unethical behaviour."

The biennial survey by financial consultancy firm EY found that millennial respondents (45 per cent) in Singapore are more likely than any other age group (21 per cent) to be prepared to offer cash payments to win or retain business - an act of bribery. This is higher than the 38 per cent average for millennials across the region.

The figures suggest that, despite years of investment into compliance policies, ethical standards in the corporate sector may have not improved accordingly. "That's basically due to a lack of clarity of policies, and inconsistency of their implementation. This causes confusion and frustration among employees," said Mr Reuben Khoo, EY's Asean leader for fraud investigation and dispute services.

Mixed messages sent out by the management, including promoting unethical employees, have even created distrust, he warned.

About 80 per cent of all respondents in Singapore said their firms had a whistle-blowing hotline, but 22 per cent said they would rather report misconduct to law enforcement hotlines or on social media.

There is now a "wake-up call" for employers to revisit their compliance programmes, invest more in education and lead by example, Ms Tan said.

Another area that requires attention is cyber security, with around half of regional and Singapore respondents saying their firms had no policies against using personal devices for work-related activities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Employees value ethics but find policies confusing: Survey'. Print Edition | Subscribe