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In Bad Company

Ethical no-nos have become
commonplacein the
office.

Cutting corners, lying about sick days--many American workers have done something unethical at work this year, according to a survey sponsored by the Ethics Officer Association. Meanwhile, in another study, 47 percent of top executives and 76 percent of MBA students were willing to "fudge" figures in order to make company profits appear larger, when placed in the role of a time-pressured, bottomline conscious executive.

These studies show that workplace dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions, insists Lance Secretan, a consultant and author of Reclaiming Higher Ground: Creating Organizations that Inspire the Soul (McGraw-Hill).

"Ethics violations often stem from increased pressure on management to perform," adds Arthur Brief, Ph.D., the Tulane organizational psychologist who led the second study. "There is also the sense that what's right at home and church is different from what's right in the workplace."

The core problem is a crisis in moral leadership, in Secretan's view. "Society's greatest institutions, from religious bodies, to government, to business, are not giving us beacons to follow." The best answer to this problem? "Create an organization where people are encouraged and rewarded for questioning orders they receive," Brief says. Even if your employer does not address the issue, Secretan believes grassroots change is possible. "If you start telling the truth, keeping your promises, living with integrity in your work, you can create change from the inside out."