Younger workers see action as key to business ethics

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Younger workers want to do the right thing.

Gen Z and Millennials say it is crucial for companies to take meaningful, measurable action when faced with a dilemma, according to a new international survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

The 2023 Business Ethics Survey found that 36% of future talent said “taking action when faced with an ethical dilemma” is the most meaningful thing a company can do, while only 23% of business leaders said the same.

Responses were gathered in December 2022 from 1,820 adults — including 618 respondents in the future talent cohort — in the UK and US. Future talent, according to the survey, is workers aged 20-30 who are pursuing an advanced degree or have an associate degree or higher and working less than 10 years or looking for work.

The survey also found that future talent prioritises behaving responsibly towards the local community, protecting customer data, and following all laws and regulations. While 70% of future talent said business ethics is more important now than five years ago, that cohort is less optimistic that compliance rules will be more stringent in the future.

Future talent finds traditional ethics training to be less effective and doesn’t feel as prepared to navigate ethical issues at work. Just over 1 in 4 (26%) younger workers say their company’s ethics training is very effective, compared to nearly half (48%) of business leaders.

“Leaders in every industry must ensure that we’re not just leading by example, but empowering our people to become ethical leaders themselves,” said Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, AICPA & CIMA CEO–Public Accounting. “As ethical challenges become more complex, effective leaders must be prepared to encourage accountability, navigate competing pressures, and manage shifts in generational expectations.”

Other findings in the survey include:

  • 71% of respondents say business ethics is increasingly important.
  • Compared to five years ago, a company’s ethics is perceived to be more important to all aspects of business, including public perception (68%) and its ability to attract good talent (66%).
  • 41% of respondents have faced an ethical dilemma at work, and 36% of business leaders have been encouraged to cut ethical corners often.
  • Respondents agree that the CEO/board of directors is most responsible for establishing ethical business practices (68%) and upholding those practices (53%).
  • Most employees (88%) are familiar with their company’s code of ethics.
  • When faced with an ethical work dilemma, everyone is most likely to ask their manager for advice. Future talent is least likely (18%) to turn to a professional or trade group.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Kevin Brewer at Kevin.Brewer@aicpa-cima.com.

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