Behaviours in the Workplace: Where does responsibility lie?

Amanda Fajak

Our Managing Behaviours in the Workplace research report is now available to download. Based on original research with over 700 leaders, employees, consumers and shareholders it asks the question: who should be held responsible for the behaviour of employees at work?  


A number of high profile cases – such as the Volkswagen emissions scandals and the multiple account openings at Wells Fargo – prompted calls for leaders’ heads to roll. At Societe Generale and Barings Bank however, it was the individual employee who was prosecuted. So which should it be? Our research explores where the balance between personal responsibility of employees and the responsibility of leaders lies.


Agreement across the board


Eighty-eight per cent of our survey respondents agreed that employees who do the wrong thing in an organisation should be held responsible for their own actions. Their answer to this question shows that most employees in organisations today do indeed have a strong sense of individual responsibility for behaviour.


However, whilst there is widespread agreement that individuals should be held accountable for their own behaviour, 90% agreed that it is the leaders within an organisation that are responsible for creating the environment in which the right behaviours can flourish. In other words, leaders are responsible for creating the culture. They are expected to set clear expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable, and to role model, to reward the right behaviours, and to take visible action on the wrong behaviours. Leadership responsibility for specific malpractice or inappropriate behaviour is also triggered by the repetition of that behaviour – so when it moves from a one-off incident to a repeated and collective pattern of behaviour, the leader must also be held responsible. 


This has all sorts of implications for how much a leader can be expected to know what his or her employees are doing and where the balance lies between CEO responsibility and that of leaders across the organisation.

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