Study shows benefits of anti-retaliation policies

The Ethics Resource Center has just released a report from its 2009 National Business Ethics Survey. The report, called "Retaliation: The Cost to Your Company and Its Employees," documents how companies that tolerate retaliation suffer increased levels of employee misconduct. The report documents how the employees’ mere perception of retaliation is sufficient to deter reporting of misconduct.  It is also an indicator of the level of actual misconduct. The report finds that 15% of employees who report misconduct experience retaliation. The rate is higher for union members (21%) and those in firms of 100 to 500 employees (also 21%, an increase from 14% in 2007). If employees feel "extreme pressure" to compromise standards, then they report retaliation at a rate of 59%.

Of those reporting retaliation, most experienced exclusion from decisions and work activity (62%), a cold shoulder (60%), and verbal abuse by a supervisor or manager (55%). The survey reports that 48% say they almost lost their job, 43% say they lost promotions or raises, 18% were demoted, and 4% experienced physical harm to person or property. The survey included only respondents who are currently employed — a methodology that might cause underreporting of discharges as a form of retaliation.

The ERC study associated retaliation with the ethical culture of the employer.  Retaliation is much more common in organizations that have a weak ethical culture. If management tolerates retaliation, employee trust levels drop markedly. Employee engagement and commitment to the organization drops from 78% to 38% when employees experience retaliation for reporting misconduct. Among all employees who reported misconduct (including those who experienced retaliation and those who did not), engagement is 66%.

The ERC makes the following recommendations:

SAI Global sponsored the survey. Ann Wootton, President and General Manager of SAI Global Compliance Americas, told the Examiner, “This report demonstrates just how toxic the fear of retaliation can be in an organization.” She adds, “Companies that make zero tolerance their goal are doing their employees and themselves a big favor. Retaliation brings a lot of baggage with it that can truly damage an enterprise.”

Patricia J. Harned, president of the Ethics Resource Center. told the Examiner, “ERC’s research shows workplace retaliation for what it is – a destructive attitude-killer. The best antidote is a company-wide ethical culture where employees feel that reporting is not only tolerated but welcome. And surveys are the best way to assess what’s on employees’ minds.”

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