Workplace misconduct has been dominating the headlines over the past few months. The likes of Tesla, Walmart and Activision Blizzard have been taken to court over workplace misconduct allegations ranging from discrimination against disabled employees, racism in the workplace and sexual harassment at work.
But these are not just a few bad apples. In fact, a study of 2,000 UK and US employees by Vault Platform has found that 76% have witnessed or personally experienced misconduct, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, fraud or bribery, at work.
Around half (51% in the US and 49% in the UK) have personally experienced workplace misconduct.
This rises to 64% for younger employees aged between 18 and 34, compared to only 44% for over 35s.
The report also found misconduct is a systemic problem within organizations.
76% of UK and 84% of US employees had experienced workplace misconduct on more than one occasion, while 54% of UK and 55% of US employees have experienced misconduct in the last 12 months, despite working from home.
Talking about the findings, Vault Platform founder and CEO Neta Meidav noted: “It is hugely concerning to see just how many people witness or fall victim to misconduct in the workplace.
“Our study shows that these aren’t one off, isolated incidents, but rather signs of an alarming, systemic issue in businesses across the UK and US.”
Unfortunately, Vault’s study also found how under-reported misconduct at work is. As a result, Vault believes there is a trust gap between workers and their employer.
31% of UK and 35% of US employees believed their employer would brush aside misconduct reports if it would affect the company’s profits or reputations. Worryingly, the 500 HR and compliance leaders also surveyed by Vault agreed with this assessment.
As a result, 59% of UK and 62% of US office workers described their business as either not ethical, transparent or authentic, or showing a lack of accountability or compassion.
Meidav continued: “There is an obvious gap between the expectations employees rightly have of their employers to protect them in the workplace and the reality of how well set up employers are to meet their obligations to stamp out instances of misconduct.”
The cost of misconduct
It is particularly concerning that employers are not dealing with workplace misconduct appropriately given that there are huge costs involved from having an unsafe workplace.
Vault found that for 66% of those who personally experienced or witnessed misconduct at work, this caused a negative impact on productivity and wellbeing. While 45% left their role in a company and 49% took time away from work.
The survey estimated that misconduct caused 9 million sick days in the UK and 43.2 million in the US. This costs businesses in the UK approximately £130 per employee, meaning across the economy £1.2 billion in unproductive hours.
This rises to $178 per employee in the US and $8.54 billion unproductive hours. This is not to mention the rehiring costs of £1.9 billion in the UK and $20.2 billion in the US.
The report noted: “The figures are staggering, and the cost on individuals, business and the wider economy means they can no longer be ignored.
“This again highlights how workplace misconduct is not an employee or HR issue. Workplace misconduct affects every part of society, and if organizations want to improve their bottom line, putting the proper strategies in place to combat it is of the utmost importance.”
How can tech help?
Given the enormous impact on wellbeing, productivity and businesses bottom, companies, and particularly HR teams, need to really step up their focus on making their workplaces psychologically safe.
Meidav noted: “Misconduct and workplace ethics are no longer an issue that can be ignored, as the global rise in social activism is empowering a Speak Up culture in the workplace, meaning employers need to become much more proactive in their approach to managing and preventing misconduct and build back trust with staff.”
But how can companies encourage their workers to better report incidents and feel confident that actions will be taken?
Technology has an incredibly important role to play here. According to Vault’s study, only 37% of those surveyed had reported incidents they had been victims or of witnesses. 37% of US and 35% of UK employees said they didn’t report because of concerns about anonymity, while 28% in the US and 26% in the UK noted they were worried about not being taken seriously.
According to Vault’s report, what employees want out of misconduct tech is for it to be easy to use and secure (83%) and that it would enable multiple incidents to be logged in order to build up data (82%).
They also wanted to use an anonymized app (76%) – HR leaders agree this is important. In addition, 74% said if they were choosing between a hotline or an anonymized app then they would choose the latter.
The report concluded: “By utilizing the latest technology, employers can make a significant difference to their work culture, their employees’ experiences at work, and as an added bonus, their bottom line.
“There needs to be a cultural shift in the way with which workplace misconduct is dealt with, and implementing effective anonymous reporting solutions can be a first step in creating that change.
“Now is a pivotal moment to listen, understand and change – for a stronger workforce, a healthier economy and a better world.”