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Most public sector managers say their employers have poor ethical standards

Only a fifth of managers in the public sector would give their organisation top marks for ethical behaviour, which is half as many as those in PLCs, according to new research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). 

In its new report ‘The Moral DNA of Performance’, it was found that public sector and large organisations face the biggest challenges when it comes to ethics. 

For instance, some 13% of public sector managers rate their organisation’s ethics as ‘poor’. Large employers face the biggest challenges when it comes to ethics, with managers four times more likely than those in small firms to rate their organisation as poor (12% vs 3%). 

Approximately 39% of public sector managers rate their employers’ ethical behaviour as ‘good’ and 28% say they ‘could do better’. 

It was stated that for organisations that might be hoped to have a strong sense of social purpose and values of service, this represents a substantial challenge and raises questions about the impact of bureaucratic processes upon behaviour. The highest scores on ethical behaviour were given by managers working in cooperatives (60%), partnerships (57%) and PLCs (40%). 

The report, based on the responses of 2,542 CMI members across private, public and not-for-profit sectors, stated that it found that too many managers are suppressing their “human empathy” and risk becoming “robotically compliant” with rules and regulations. 

It added that whilst older managers demonstrate greater wisdom, they are also more arrogant.

Whereas female leaders demonstrate more empathy, and those with religious faith demonstrate greater ethical awareness. 

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said: “Good management cares about morals and values and this research shows why – because they bring clear benefits to organisations. They’re fundamental to the decisions employees make, the actions they take, and the business outcomes that follow. 

“The empirical evidence and the leaders interviewed in this report agree. A stronger sense of ethics at work brings better results for business. The ultimate message? Get the culture right – and the rest will follow.” 

The report recommended that, going forward, organisations should focus on purpose, values, leadership and culture. 

For example, employers should encourage leaders to take time to develop their ability to inspire and lead customers as well as colleagues. Also, decisions should be made more on the basis of values, not just rules, avoiding knee-jerk regulatory reactions to problems. 

It was stated that a lack of diversity in the boardroom has been identified as a major threat to companies, so they should explore how their organisation challenges ‘group-think’ – how it can do more to include a diversity of outlook, experience or behaviour at the top. 

Robin Field-Smith, chair of the Ethics Research Advisory Group, said: “This report is not saying that ‘one size fits all’, or explaining what is the right thing to do. Rather it describes what works well in leaders’ behaviours not only for achieving outcomes but also in taking people along as well. 

“It is about generating intelligent trust and mutual respect. I commend it to all in the world of work especially those who lead and manage others.” 

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