Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

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The organizational environment is significantly influenced by the behavior, attitudes, and practices of the employees. Notably, unethical behavior jeopardizes the realization of quality relationships in the organization thereby, undermining the level of productivity. For this reason, unethical behavior it the workplace including misuse of time and resources, abusive behavior, employee theft, and lying constitute the leading unethical conduct in the workplace.

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Notably, the factors that influence employees to engage in unethical behavior emanate from the failure of supervisors and senior management to portray ethical behavior. Additionally, lack of the employee’s commitment to upholding the organization’s Code of Ethics undermines their uprightness in the organization thereby, undermining their productivity. Therefore, assessing the leadership approaches, the organization’s standards, and the employees’ commitment to uprightness is crucial for understanding the causes of unethical behavior at the workplace.


The process of corporate changes that are driven by new trends in the global markets has influenced the manner in which employees carry out their tasks (Miao, Newman, Yu, & Xu, 2013). Thus, such changes have affected the functioning of many organizations. For this reason, today, employees embrace organizational cultures that seek to accommodate the values, attitudes, and practices of other individuals as a way of promoting equality.

However, the rise of unethical behavior among employees in the modern corporate setting has raised questions regarding the manner in which organizations handle ethical conduct (Zuber & Kaptein, 2014). Therefore, analyzing the factors that trigger or influence unethical behavior among employees in the organizational atmosphere is essential.


The motivation that prompted the inquiry emanates from the workplace setting following personal experiences that depict the absence of observing ethical standards in the workplace environment. Notably, some managers and leaders engage in unethical behaviors such as abusing employees and lying not only to them but also to the clients in some instances. In this regard, a considerable proportion of employees believe that their supervisors and other senior staff members influence them to engage in unethical behaviors (Treviño, den Nieuwenboer, & Kish-Gephart, 2014). The following chart reveals the concerns of employees regarding the ethical behavior of their supervisors.

Employee perception of supervisor’s ethics.
Figure 1: Employee perception of supervisor’s ethics.

As seen in the above chart, many employees perceive their supervisors as unethical to the extent that they (supervisors) influence their ethical conduct negatively. Therefore, this trend prompts inquiry to facilitate the realization of uprightness in the organizational atmosphere.

Research Problem

The issue of unethical practices that are influenced by poor leadership in the organization affects the prevalence of practicing unacceptable moral standards in the corporate world. Instances of theft and misappropriation of resources, corruption, lying, and abusing of employees based on their background differences threaten the sustainability of many organizations in the competitive global markets (Miao et al., 2013).

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Unethical behavior in the organizational scenery undermines the productivity of employees in a company substantially. Therefore, assessing the influence of the leaders, organizational culture and standards, and the attitudes of employees towards ethical behavior is crucial for the attainment of productivity and heightened competitiveness of a given player.


The objectives of this inquiry entail assessing the influence of supervisors, managers, and other senior staff on employees’ ethical behavior. Additionally, gauging the impact of unethical behavior practiced by employees on the performance of the organization is relevant. Furthermore, revealing the essence of ethical practices in the organization will enhance an understanding of maintaining an upright behavior in the workplace surroundings.


This study is expected to:

  • Foster an understanding of the relevance of sound leadership in promoting ethical behavior at the workplace.
  • Influence employees to take the responsibility of upholding ethical standards when performing their functions since it influences productivity and the overall performance of the organization.
  • Emphasize the essence of implementing a clear code of ethics in the organizational environment.

Paper Structure

The structure of the paper will be characterized by an in-depth analysis of the various aspects that influence unethical behavior in the workplace. Therefore, the inquiry will entail a review of various literature materials on the issue before selecting a suitable research design that can facilitate the collection and analysis of the relevant data. Thus, the structure of the paper will stick to the subject matter of the research to the latter.

Literature Review

Currently, many organizations face the challenge of attaining a competitive edge owing to the unethical practice crisis. The crisis has affected the experience of business individuals, customers, and employees at the organizational level. More worrisome, supervisors, and managers among other senior officials in the multiple and diverse organizational environments conduct unethical practices that undermine the realization of beneficial outcomes to the majority, in this case, the employees and customers among other significant stakeholders (Miao et al., 2013).

For example, recent inquiries reveal that some supervisors engage in the theft and misuse of company resources and products. For this reason, emphasizing the essence of good leadership to influence the followers positively is crucial in the wake of heightened immoral acts in the workplace.

Additionally, the absence of a profound code of ethics in a given organization gives room for employees to engage in undesirable behavior and practices. Importantly, organizations need to uphold the relevance of conducting corporate processes through the guidance of ethical standards that shape the positive image of any organization (Treviño et al., 2014). For instance, it is easy to find employees using office computers for personal reasons as depicted by the rising cases of employees surfing on social networks instead of executing their tasks. Additionally, a considerable proportion of employees use workplace telephones to make lengthy personal calls instead of using the same devices to realize the organization’s goals and objectives.

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In this light, the misappropriation of workplace resources creates a culture of irresponsibility in the workplace. Thus, leaders and employees avoid owning up their mistakes. For this reason, a culture of lying emanates from the failure to adopt responsibility as a virtue while engaging in organizational processes. As a result, managers who lie to the juniors lose their trust among them to the extent of undermining the realization of healthy relationships through collaborative working in the workplace.

Surprisingly, 20% of employees report that their seniors, including managers, lied to them at least once annually (Zuber & Kaptein, 2014). Therefore, such unethical behaviors hinder the practice of goodness in the endeavors of an individual since the current organizational standards give room for managers and employees to lie and become irresponsible professionals.

Consequently, unethical behaviors undermine the productivity of an organization since the trend contributes to the wastage of time and resources besides affecting relationships negatively in the workplace setting (Bolino & Klotz, 2015). Notably, some employees waste time by using their companies’ cars for their private engagements or lie that they spend time doing something concerning the organization. Thus, the wastage of time contributes to the poor productivity of the employee since they (workers) reduce their output to the organization while using the property for personal benefits.

Notably, the rising cases of abuse and discrimination in the organizational setting undermine the productivity of the employees significantly. Disappointingly, some leaders, including managers, discriminate some members of their team on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, age, and religion among other factors (Miao et al., 2013). As a result, such discriminative practices hinder the attainment of fair treatment and equality among employees in a way that also affects their commitment to performing their official duties. Additionally, abusive behavior in the workplace goes unreported in considerable instances. Hence, this situation, which makes employees suffer silently, results in psychological imbalances that decline their level of productivity.

The maintenance of a professional code of ethics in the organizational atmosphere is crucial since it sets the acceptable standards that all members should meet when performing their roles. Importantly, such standards inform the customers what to anticipate from professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business people among other experts. The adherence of professionals to the set ethical standards improves their relations with customers among other stakeholders in a way that influences the success of the organization positively (Bolino & Klotz, 2015).


The inquiry embraced a mixed method that incorporates qualitative and quantitative study approaches. The essence of selecting the mixed research method was to realize a better and comprehensive understanding of the issues surrounding unethical behavior in the workplace setting. Furthermore, the approach was appropriate for the issue concerning ethics owing to the broad scope of the matter.

The qualitative aspect of the methodology incorporated semi-structured interviews besides an assessment of the relevant literature. Qualitatively, the research considered a sample of at least 100 respondents selected from different organizational departments and teams through simple probability sampling techniques. The quantitative aspect of the research method entailed the administration of close-ended questionnaires. The administration of the questionnaires also embraced the simple sampling tactic of sampling to gain an understanding of the issues that influence ethical behavior in the organizational setting. Importantly, the questionnaire incorporated a mixture of close-ended qualitative and quantitative questions that were distributed evenly and in a leading manner.

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The research instruments and process emerged from a design that considered the essence of attaining expressive analysis of the data since independent data is pointless unless it is interpreted logically and systematically. The data interpretation element considered an assessment of the responses against applicable moral laws and concepts, including utilitarianism, among other theoretical frameworks. Furthermore, the analysis of statistical data also integrated the financial records and conflict files that depicted the influence of ethics on the productivity and performance of the organization. For this reason, the inquiry applied the SPSS program to assess the existing association between several variables.

Moreover, the research endeavor employed a voluntary participation approach to the data collection aspect. For this purpose, respondents received a covering letter that secured their consent before administering the questionnaires and/or accessing records. In doing so, the research team ensured that it engaged in an ethical undertaking that also sought to investigate the same issue in the workplace environment.

Data Analysis

The data analysis was based on the collected data through the mixed methodology instruments that included the questionnaires and a review of the literature. Therefore, the analysis applied the qualitative and quantitative data assessment approaches to facilitate the understanding of the issues associated with unethical behavior in the workplace.

Interestingly, 60% of the respondents understood the concept of ethics in the organizational environment. Therefore, a considerable proportion of employees know that professional ethics is an essential element of their practice.

However, the questionnaires revealed that at least 40% of the respondents engaged in unethical behavior in the workplace. About 17.5% of the respondents revealed that they do not fully understand the issue of ethics and its applicability in the workplace environment since 21.5% of them failed to explain their perception explicitly regarding the matter. Therefore, the varying levels of understanding denote the extent to which organizations fail to instill effective codes of ethics that can influence the goodness of the workforce.

The trend also denotes that the leadership aspect also influences the prevalence of unethical conduct in the organizational setting. Notably, 37% of the respondents revealed that their supervisors did not portray ethical behavior when leading them to execute particular tasks. As a result, the poor ethical standards depicted by the supervisors among other senior employees influenced a significant 32% of the respondents to engage in unethical practices. For this reason, 52% of the sampled individuals attested that they engaged in immoral behaviors such as lying, misappropriation of resources, and time wastage.

Furthermore, statistical findings reveal that a single unethical practice in the workplace undermines the productivity of the professional by 20%. Thus, such a practice affects the performance and competitiveness of the organization negatively (Bolino & Klotz, 2015). In this regard, organizations that are characterized by unethical practices propagated by the employees incur losses of up to 80% owing to issues such as fines after victims of unethical behavior seek legal intervention among other detrimental ethical issues that prompt the organization’s failure.


Aspects such as leadership, the organizational culture regarding ethics, and the commitment of the employees to maintaining ethical behavior in the organization influence unethical behaviors in the organizational setting. Notably, supervisors and other senior employees influence the behavior of the employees under their span of control substantially since they (employees) emulate the attitude and behavior of their leaders when performing their duties as instructed. For this reason, supervisors who exhibit unethical practices such as lying to the employees prompt them (workers) to adopt such practices that jeopardize the realization of envisioned goals.

Furthermore, unethical practices that are influenced by forces such as competition among employees sway them to consider the use of shortcuts, which are unethical in most instances. Surprisingly, the use of shortcuts, for instance, forging documents and soliciting favors from supervisors in a bid to attain competitiveness jeopardize the performance of the organization to a considerable degree. For example, a culture of lying can delay the execution of certain tasks and functions to the extent of resulting in the failure to realize deadlines.

Moreover, the lack of commitment to maintaining and observing the provisions of the organization’s code of ethics promotes unethical behavior in the workplace. As noted, a substantial 60% of the employees in a given organization understand the concept of ethics but fail to practice it due to the organization’s failure to enforce ethical standards. Therefore, besides the essence of the organization to reinforce an effective code of ethics that guides the conduct of the employees, organizations’ administrators should also show their commitment to fostering a culture of workplace uprightness.

Reference List

Bolino, M. C., & Klotz, A. C. (2015). The paradox of the unethical organizational citizen: The link between organizational citizenship behavior and unethical behavior at work. Current Opinion in Psychology, 6(1), 45-49.

Miao, Q., Newman, A., Yu, J., & Xu, L. (2013). The relationship between ethical leadership and unethical pro-organizational behavior: Linear or curvilinear effects? Journal of Business Ethics, 116(3), 641-653.

Treviño, L. K., den Nieuwenboer, N. A., & Kish-Gephart, J. J. (2014). (Un)ethical behavior in organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 65(1), 635-660.

Zuber, F., & Kaptein, M. (2014). Painting with the same brush? Surveying unethical behavior in the workplace using self-reports and observer-reports. Journal of Business Ethics, 125(3), 401-432.

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