The ethical environment: the issues internal auditors should assess around ethics in the workplace are numerous and complex.

Position:Eye on Business - Interview with Michael J. O'Leary and Brian P. Christensen on ethics in the practice of internal auditors - Interview

What are the most common ethical dilemmas organizations face today?

CHRISTENSEN An often encountered dilemma is the consideration of conflicting performance metrics around cost and time, on the one hand, and safety and quality, on the other. This ethical conflict can manifest itself in many ways--deferral of scheduled maintenance, outsourcing to low-cost/ low-quality suppliers, shortcutting on quality standards, unbalanced reward systems, and blind obedience to authority, leading to conflict avoidance and group think. It is ironic that those at the top often are quick to blame those who are on the firing line making the critical decisions, even though the leaders have primary responsibility for the very culture that drives the pressure points incentivizing inappropriate decisions.

O'LEARY As the global business landscape becomes more complex, companies are facing a more diverse array of ethical dilemmas, even compared to just five or six years ago. Traditional ethical issues around bribery, corruption, money laundering, human resource matters, inappropriate financial reporting, or earnings management continue to exist and clearly need important education, awareness, monitoring, and prevention investments from organizations--especially given increased regulatory scrutiny. However, with the rapid investment and growth many organizations are focused on in emerging markets well beyond just Brazil, Russia, India, and China, added complexity permeates ethical considerations. Additionally, the continued expansion of the digital agenda across organizations, sectors, and markets adds a complex array of issues to contend with, including cybersecurity, data privacy, and social media.

What impact do generational attitudes and cultural standards have on expectations of an ethical environment?

O'LEARY Generational attitudes and cultural standards can have a significant impact on expectations around ethics in an organization. As acceptable or common cultural and business practices can vary across diverse populations, it is important that organizations recognize this variability when strategizing around education, awareness, company policy, monitoring, and prevention techniques. For example, millennials' attitudes and expectations around social media introduce much greater complexity to how organizations handle the possible unintended or purposeful consequences that may be associated with information that is released into the cyber world.


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