Print this page

New Zealand employees given insufficient support to act ethically, survey reveals

  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size

Only 29% of New Zealand employees surveyed by the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), in association with Victoria University of Wellington, say their organisation has a comprehensive ethics programme, while 10% say their organisation has none at all.

This is the first time the survey of employees, introduced in the United Kingdom in 2005, has been conducted in New Zealand, where the IBE’s national partner is the University’s Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership.

The survey asks employees how they experience ethical dilemmas in their day-to-day working lives. It also looks at whether they have witnessed misconduct, whether they have reported it, and what stops them doing so.

It was conducted in Australia for the first time too and continues to cover the UK.

Of more than 2,000 employees surveyed across the three countries, 752 were in New Zealand.

The IBE asked employees how their organisation supported them to ‘do the right thing’, having identified four key building blocks needed for a comprehensive ethics programme:

  • Code of Ethics—70% of New Zealand employees said their organisation has written standards of ethical business conduct (compared with 73% in Australia and 69% in the UK)
  • Speak Up/Whistleblowing process—56% have a means of reporting misconduct confidentially (compared with 64% in the UK and 61% in Australia)
  • Advice line—Less than half (46%) have access to an advice or information helpline about behaving ethically (compared with 52% in Australia and 51% in the UK)
  • Ethics training—Only 51% are given training on ethical conduct (compared with 59% in Australia and 56% in the UK).


  • The Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees—Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom highlights the positive impact on employees of having a comprehensive ethics programme. For example:
  • Across the three countries, 85% of employees in organisations with a comprehensive ethics programme say their organisation acts responsibly in all its business dealings, compared with 54% in organisations without a programme
  • Employees in organisations with an ethics programme are more likely to speak up about misconduct—79% of employees in organisations with a comprehensive ethics programme who have been aware of misconduct spoke up, as opposed to 32% of those in a similar position in organisations without a programme
  • Line managers in organisations with an ethics programme set a better example—83% of employees in organisations with a comprehensive ethics programme say their line manager sets a good example of ethical business behaviour, compared with 38% in organisations without a programme.

IBE Director Philippa Foster Back, who is in New Zealand this week to launch the survey findings, says: “The NZX has issued recommendations for listed companies to have a code of ethics and training programme, and these results show the value of these programmes. Not only do they support employees to do the right thing, they also provide assurance to stakeholders—like investors and customers—that the organisation is operating sustainably, with business ethics in mind.”

Professor Karin Lasthuizen says that in her work as Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership she aims to facilitate a transparent and ethically sound business sector in New Zealand.

“The facts and figures in this report give important insights on employees’ attitudes to and views on workplace ethics,” says Professor Lasthuizen.

“It worries me that, although a majority of respondents in New Zealand are positive about the behaviour of their line manager, 10% still say they have felt some form of pressure to compromise their organisation’s standards of ethical behaviour. Employees who have felt pressured to compromise ethical standards are more likely to have negative perceptions of the ability of managers to promote ethics at the workplace.

“Ethical leadership is key to establish a supportive organisational culture and to help mitigate the risks that can lead to organisational failures. Clarifying the organisation’s ethical expectations and setting clear boundaries for behaviour are important tasks for management, especially in light of these findings.”

Professor Lasthuizen will launch an ethical leadership Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2019 as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s programme of edX MOOCs. The course will introduce students to the theories and practices of ethical leadership, and features recognised leaders from the private, public and NGO sectors.

Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees—Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom and Ethics at Work: 2018 survey of employees—New Zealand, which looks more deeply at the New Zealand findings, are available as free downloads at from 6.30pm on Wednesday 28 November.

  • Source: A Victoria University Release