• Service: Advisory, Consulting, Forensic
  • Type: Press release
  • Date: 6/17/2014

64 percent of all employees have already engaged in unethical behavior 

Unethical behavior at the workplace is a topic that also needs to be taken very seriously at Swiss companies. This conclusion is corroborated by the figures contained in KPMG’s latest study “Fraud & Ethics at the Workplace in Switzerland”. The study also shows that the impact of a company’s culture on employee behavior is just as strong as the influence of colleagues who engage in unethical workplace behavior.
In cooperation with the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and Erasmus University Rotterdam, KPMG has extensively researched the questions of why and under which circumstances employees engage in unethical behavior. The study “Fraud & Ethics at the Workplace in Switzerland” proves that the unethical behavior of colleagues can have a highly negative impact on a person’s own behavior. Incorporating data from the Swiss HR Barometer of ETH Zurich also revealed that the atmosphere, culture and feel-good factor of a workplace have a strong impact on employees’ deviant behavior.

Unethical behavior in Switzerland

When it comes to employee behavior, Switzerland shows great diversity in deviant and unethical behavior. Within the scope of the KPMG study “Fraud & Ethics at the Workplace in Switzerland”, 428 participants in the German-speaking part of Switzerland were asked to answer questions related to specific kinds of unethical behavior at the workplace. One particular focus of these questions was whether they had observed misconduct or were even guilty of misconduct themselves. Working from a list containing 37 forms of unethical behavior, a total of 83% of the respondents indicated that they had observed at least one form of unethical behavior during the past twelve months. Another 64% of respondents reported that they, themselves, had engaged in unethical behavior. “Wasting, mismanaging, or abusing organizational resources” was the type of unethical behavior most frequently observed (54.6%) and committed (36.4%) by respondents. The second most frequent form of misconduct observed (40%) or committed (24.8%) by respondents was “Engaging in activities that pose a conflict of interest”.


Percentage of respondents having observed and committed unethical behavior towards the organization respectively


Unethical behavior towards the organization

% of respondents who observed it % of respondents who committed it

Wasting, mismanaging, or abusing organizational resources

54.6% 36.4%

Engaging in activities that pose a conflict of interest (e.g., conflicting sideline activities, favoritism of family and friends, use of working hours for private purposes, executing conflicting tasks)

40.0% 24.8%

Falsifying time and expense reports

16.6% 4.9%

Breaching computer, network, or database controls

16.6% 8.6%

Violating document retention rules

14.7% 9.4%

Stealing or misappropriating assets (e.g., money, equipment, materials)

13.1% 4.9%

Abusing or misusing confidential or proprietary information of the organization

12.2% 4.0%

Falsifying or manipulating financial reporting information

8.2% 2.6%

Providing inappropriate information to analysts and investors

2.6% 0.9%

Trading securities based on inside information

0.7% 0.2%


Survey 2: Unethical behavior in organizations


Influence of colleagues is strong

The study shows that employees who have observed unethical behavior more frequently are also more likely to engage in unethical behavior themselves. This holds particularly true if the person observed is a role model for the employees such as a very experienced colleague, a supervisor or a member of management. For organizations this means that if an employee engages in unethical behavior and is observed doing so, the level of risk increases and this example could be followed.

Impact of work relations

Based on the data provided by the Swiss HR Barometer, KPMG has identified a few other causes of unethical behavior. These causes could be employees’ implicit expectations of employers in terms of their own professional development, more interesting job contents, job security and higher pay. If these expectations are not met, the result is termed a breach in the psychological contract. Employees who have experienced this kind of contractual breach and who are left with very little trust in their employers engage significantly more often in deviant workplace behaviors.


Mean level of deviant workplace behavior for unfulfilled versus fulfilled psychological contract and low versus high levels of trust in the employer


Mean level of deviant workplace behavior 


Survey 3: Swiss HR Barometer 2012

Moreover, an evaluation of the data presented in the Swiss HR Barometer reveals that employees who experience a greater fear of losing their job are considerably more likely to engage in deviant behaviors than employees with lower levels of job insecurity.

Steering ethical behavior

For companies to be able to identify potential unethical behavior at an early stage, they must first understand the factors influencing it. A better understanding of what drives unethical behavior helps influence employees’ workplace behavior. Martijn de Kiewit, Head of Ethics and Compliance Management at KPMG Switzerland, has this advice: “Companies need a detailed understanding of employees’ expectations so that they can employ communication and training to establish clarity and explain individual aspects of the company’s code of conduct. Confidants and whistle-blowing hotlines give employees the chance to report unethical behavior anonymously and thus prevent further misconduct. This is one way for the organization to effectively safeguard its ethical culture.”
KPMG DilemmApp

KPMG has developed the DilemmApp for iPhones, an interactive training tool that hones employees’ awareness of moral conduct and helps them handle situations involving ethical dilemmas. If employees understand how to interpret and implement internal guidelines and processes, it becomes easier for them to make responsible decisions in difficult situations. The app points out problematic cases and not only lets users vote on the best way to handle various situations, it also compares their answers to those provided by other players. What’s more, it offers an opportunity to discuss difficult situations and share these with others. Download the DilemmApp in the iTunes-Store or via the App Store on your iPhone.


Simone Glarner

Simone Glarner

Head of Media Relations

+41 58 249 55 71


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Reputation is key. Crime is unacceptable. Two simple principles that drive our Forensic specialists.

Study: Fraud & Ethics at the Workplace in Switzerland

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In the newspapers we regularly read articles about big cases of occupational misconduct. But How often does it occur at the workplace in Switzerland?


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The KPMG DilemmApp for iPhone is an interactive training tool that lets you vote and discuss on ethical dilemma cases that may arise in the business world.

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