Are Gen Z employees more likely to break workplace rules?

New study shows 23 percent of employees globally justify breaking rules to achieve job objectives

Are Gen Z employees more likely to break workplace rules?

A study by LRN Corporation has revealed a troubling acceptance of unethical behavior in the workplace globally.  

According to the study, 23 percent of employees worldwide believe that “it is OK to break the rules if needed to get the job done,” with 14 percent admitting to having violated their company’s Code of Conduct or standards in the past year. 

The report, entitled the Benchmark of Ethical Culture Report, surveyed over 8,500 employees from 15 different countries and 13 industries. It highlights significant generational differences: 22 percent of Gen Z respondents admitted to unethical conduct in the past year, compared to only 9 percent of Boomers. 

This suggests a decreasing adherence to ethical standards with younger generations. 

LRN's findings also underscore the impact of ethical culture on organizational performance. Companies with strong ethical cultures not only witnessed lower rates of misconduct but also reported these at 1.5 times the rate of companies with weaker cultures—93 percent compared to 63 percent.  

This higher reporting rate significantly reduces risk by increasing awareness of issues.   

Globally, one-third of respondents observed misconduct in their workplace in the last year, with the most common issues being harassment, discrimination, conflicts of interest, and violations of employee health and safety.  

However, 21 percent of these observers did not report the misconduct due to doubts about their company’s response or fear of retaliation, indicating a deep mistrust in organizational justice systems.   

The study also explored perceptions of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace. While a slight majority see AI as having a positive impact, those in companies perceived as adaptive and resilient are nearly twice as likely to welcome AI’s benefits on their careers.   

Furthermore, LRN’s research quantifies the correlation between ethical culture and business outcomes.  

Companies with strong ethical cultures outperform those with weak ones by approximately 50 percentage points in various business metrics such as customer satisfaction, employee loyalty, competitiveness, innovation, and adaptability.  

The adaptability score is especially high, with strong-culture companies being 2.6 times more adaptable than those with weak cultures.   

Additional insights from the report reveal that 79 percent of employees who witnessed misconduct reported it, primarily to their direct or another manager. Psychological safety was identified as the strongest predictor of whether employees would report observed misconduct.  

Senior leaders are 2.6 times more likely to perceive their company’s culture as strong compared to front-line employees, highlighting a significant perception gap.  

Hybrid employees have more favorable views of their company’s ethical culture than those who work entirely onsite, and they report misconduct at a higher rate.  

A company’s ethical culture accounts for 41 percent of the variation in employees' willingness to remain with their organization, outside of other factors such as compensation or job responsibilities.