The 2007 Deloitte & Touche Ethics & Workplace survey has found a strong relationship between corporate work-life balance policies and positive ethical behaviors. The survey also showed that the behaviors of management and direct supervisors, coupled with positive reinforcement of ethical behavior, are the top factors for promoting ethical behavior in the workforce.

“In the competitive environment to attract and retain talent, it is imperative that employers provide employees with the means to attain a healthy work-life balance,” says Sharon Allen, chairman of the board at Deloitte & Touche USA. “This is not only key to job satisfaction and retaining your most valued employees, but it is also critical in fostering an ethical workplace culture.”

One possible explanation: “If someone invests all of their time and energy into their jobs, it may have the unintended consequence of making them dependent on their jobs for everything: including their sense of personal worth.  This makes it even harder to make a good choice when faced with an ethical dilemma if they believe it will impact their professional success.”

According to the survey, 91 percent of all employed adults agreed that workers are more likely to behave ethically at work when they have a good work-life balance. A combined 44 percent of workers cite high levels of stress (28 percent), long hours (25 percent) and inflexible schedule (13 percent) as the causes of conflict between their work responsibilities and personal priorities, hence contributors to work-life imbalance.

Sixty percent of employed adults surveyed think that job dissatisfaction is a leading reason why people make unethical decisions at work, and more than half of workers (55 percent) ranked a flexible work schedule among the top three factors leading to job satisfaction, second only to compensation (63 percent).

The survey also reveals the important impact management and supervisors have in promoting ethical workplace behaviors. Employed adults ranked the behavior of management (42 percent) and direct supervisors (36 percent) as the top two factors contributing to the promotion of an ethical workplace.  On the other hand, reinforcement of criminal penalties and ethics training may do little to deter unethical behavior at work. Just 10 percent of employed adults ranked criminal penalties for violation of Code of Conduct among the top three factors that help foster an ethical workplace environment, while only 16 percent ranked ethics training as a factor that has a positive influence on promoting ethical behavior.

“In order to encourage high ethical standards within our organizations, we first have to provide an environment that is conducive to ethical behavior,” says Allen. “However, management and leadership have a huge responsibility in setting examples for their organizations and living the values they preach if they want to sustain a culture of ethics.”