Released by Governance Institute of Australia, Ethics Index 2022 reveals an overall Ethics Index Score (a crunching of all data in the survey of 1000 people nationwide) of 42, down from 45 last year, and a significant fall from the five-year high of 52 in 2020.
More than simply showing the state of ethical behaviour, the Ethics Index also offers a roadmap for organisations on how to improve their ethical standards.
Top of the list for ensuring ethical conduct is improving transparency and accountability.
The Index offers specific steps for organisations to take. Providing protection for whistleblowers is high on the list as is ensuring leaders are seen to act in an ethical manner. Strong legal frameworks and ethics education in schools are also important.
At the bottom of the list, the practice of designating senior executives to oversee ethics is seen as important by just 15 per cent of respondents, while putting ethics clauses in employment contracts is important to only 26 per cent.
Corruption and tax avoidance top the list of unethical behaviours, followed by misleading advertising and workplace bullying.
State politicians register as the least ethical occupation, falling to last place with a net score of –22 (down from –10 in 2021, and 2 in 2020). Federal politicians and real estate agents sit just above in second and third last place.
Social media giant TikTok has emerged as the least ethical organisation (-32), this year falling below pay day lenders (-30). Facebook is in third lowest place for least ethical organisation (-28).
And while as a nation we have high ethical expectations for action on climate change, we seem to think it’s a task for everyone else with the Index showing the Federal Government and multinational corporations have the highest urgent ethical obligations to act (‘urgent’ score of 70), whereas individuals register as having the lowest obligation (‘urgent’ score of 47).
For public policy, immigration, euthanasia and Indigenous affairs were the top three areas viewed as ethically challenging to navigate.
Governance Institute CEO Megan Motto said this year’s results show a downward trend in trust in Australia, and direct action is required to reverse this: 'A stabilisation in trust and ethics had been hoped for this year but it was not to be. We are now seeing a distinct downward trend in trust and ethics. Given strong ethics are an indicator of a strong, well-functioning society, this is a major concern and this year’s results must serve as a red flag reminder of the importance of trust and ethics at all levels of our society.”
Ms Motto said the decline has been evident following 2020 when a coordinated and well communicated first response to the pandemic – plus a general sense that we were ‘all in it together’ - saw trust soar.
'In the first pandemic year, we were on a more precise path. There was a strong ‘all in it together’ mentality. We put our trust in our governments and the medical profession and this was largely rewarded. But we have seen an unravelling since.
'And as the intensity of a crisis lessens, we begin to interrogate the response. We see the other problems around us in the harsh light of day, such as health advice versus politics, multiple corporate and government scandals, workplace issues such as the return to the office and the ongoing ‘Great Resignation’, plus growing concern on issues such as climate change. As we continue to traverse the ‘new normal’ it seems we are a little less trusting, more cynical and more divided.'
Time for an ethical reset
While ethics have fallen across many key categories, our society’s expectation of good ethics is growing with the Ethics Expectation Deficit – the gap between our expectations of how ethical something should be and how ethical we think something actually is – widening this year to -37 (-28 in 2021).
'The wider the gap, the bigger the indication that society is not performing the way we want it to,' Ms Motto said.
Ms Motto said we all have a role to play in finding better balance, whether that’s in the workplace, our neighbourhoods, or the corridors of political power.
'Following two years of poor results, it’s time for an ethical reset for the nation. Organisations must reaffirm their commitment to ethics and creating a positive culture. If culture is not deeply entwined with your overall strategic plan, then there is more work to be done.
'It is essential we are promoting good ethics in organisations, as well as good conduct.”
Download the Ethics Index 2022 HERE