December 15

Are Your Managers Prepared for a Spike in Employee Misconduct?


Gartner Inc., a leading research and advisory company, surveyed 1,000 employees in March that revealed an increased frequency of “career moments.  Gartner defines a “career moment” as a significant workplace occurrence for an employee, like layoffs of team members, significant organizational restructuring, substantial changes in senior leadership and other major changes on the job. 

According to Gartner’s press release, a higher frequency of career moments correlates to increased incidences of employee misconduct and more negative perceptions of corporate integrity.  Note that the survey was conducted in March before the full effects of the pandemic kicked in at most corporations.

As a result of the pandemic, more people are working from home, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.  In effect, we have taken employees out of the normalcy of their working environment and put them into the foreign working environment of their home.  Remote working has become a “career moment” because of this disruption.  There is a personal fear factor of employees working from home and dealing with family and other personal issues, whether health, financial, relationships, or political or cultural upheaval.  In addition, drug and alcohol addiction rates have increased significantly since the pandemic started.  Substance abuse adversely affects job performance and a person’s ability to make rational decisions and perspectives.   

An individual’s fear factor is magnified when employees no longer have a pulse on the safety of their jobs and career path.  It is human nature to protect oneself, so job priorities may take a second seat to personal needs.

Physical contact and supervision are far less with remote working.  People have more pressure and needs, which could bend the moral compass.  According to another survey by CRI Group, nearly 77% of HR professionals accept that there is a high risk that employees can initiate fraudulent activity because of WFH arrangements.  In a twist, whistleblower lawyers say that remote working has given employees time to reflect on misconduct and consider reporting it to law enforcement authorities.

According to Gartner’s Senior Director, Chris Audet, “The COVID-19 pandemic has redirected a lot of focus to addressing urgent tactical issues, but the high levels of change and disruption have created a precarious situation for the ongoing fight against misconduct in many organizations.”  I agree 100% but would add that small and medium-size companies are at a higher risk because they don’t have the systems and resources to pivot in these unique circumstances.

DOJ’s June “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” emphasizes “Tone at the Top” and the responsibility of all members of the organization to contribute an ethical corporate culture.  We’ve noticed that the DOJ is aggressively pursuing wrong-doing during the pandemic.  Unfortunately, the pandemic creates a perfect storm for the opportunity of wrong-doing, including bribery, money laundering, accounting malfeasance, fraud, and product counterfeiting or tampering.  No doubt, the DOJ will be evaluating many corporate compliance programs.

What you can do right now to reduce risk and prevent a sudden revelation of a financial or ethics scandal in your organization?

I recommend these approaches:

  1. Get the entire team speaking the same language about ethics and the organization’s ethical culture.  Everyone needs to be clear about what is expected of them, their leaders, and the organization.
  2. Equip managers with values-based ethical leadership training and tools to deal with career moments unique to the pandemic.
  3. Keep a pulse on employee scuttlebutt for signs of morale breakdown, and throw a wet blanket on the rumor mill with clear messaging.
  4. Regularly measure your ethical culture as it relates to remote workers and those in the workplace by seeking input from all employees. 
  5. Reinforce ethical principles consistently to keep ethics on the top of employees’ minds.
  6. Practice transparency, kindness, and empathy in all messaging, and message often.
  7. Update Compliance and Code of Conduct policies to address remote working.
  8. Communicate reasonable expectations and provide regular feedback, significantly reinforcing achievements.
  9. Leaders should be available and responsive to employee needs to avoid remote worker isolation.

In reality, the new normal may become the permanent reality.  Keep these recommendations in mind and implement as many as you can.

A quick plug, my E.T.H.I.C.S. Toolkit Formula is designed to implement most of these recommendations and keep your team on the right side of the law. 


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