By Andrew Hedges


If you’re new to an organisation and you’re given a company credit card for work-related expenses such as taking clients out to lunch or for travel purposes, your social identity can be tied in to how the workplace culture “interprets” that company credit card. This ties in with corruption in the workplace and how social identity keeps workers in check.

What is the newcomer to do if they notice that other workers use the facility for other purposes than what is “strictly specified”? This can descend into the cycle of corrupt conduct in the workplace if the newcomer is told that it’s the norm and the company turns a blind eye to it. While there may be the view that the practice is rubber-stamped by the corrupt workplace culture and therefore won’t stop, it can cost the organisation a very hefty sum running into the millions.

Often management is more concerned with profits and the bottom line, and if things are going very well within an organisation thanks to a team’s efforts – albeit with corrupt behaviour well known by management – there may be an inclination to accept it because they are meeting or exceeding targets. Equally, highly skilled workers who do well may be supported in their devious ways because they are seen as “valuable” to the company’s growth.


Keeping quiet can be part of the workplace culture where corruption exists and this can quickly be made clear to the new employee.  They can be made to feel very unpopular if they question or ask about how and why things are done a particular way.  It can often feel like bullying or something akin to it.
Operating within an existing dishonest system can continue as new workers may feel peer pressure in a variety of ways. They can include:
  • wanting to fit in so they comply with what are considered workplace “norms”;
  • concerns about being frozen out or bullied by others;
  • being forced to go along with things because others insist “this is how we’ve always done this here” and any questioning is met with a rebuke or resistance or silence.
Corruption in the workplace can flourish and continue often thanks to solid allegiances and cliques.  These can exist in small clusters or across the whole organisation, depending on the workplace culture.

The “in” group agenda

The strength of this inner circle within the workplace which supports entrenched corruption can have a disarming effect on any whistleblower style activities.  It is especially true when any kind of inquiry into workplace practices which may question corrupt conduct is established.
The “in” group may close ranks making it extremely difficult for management to gain traction and the group may even try to convince senior staff to abandon any form of investigation. Alternatively, they could collaborate so the terms of reference for any inquiry are so narrow that few questions are compiled or only a small number of witnesses may come forward. In other words, an investigation into workplace corruption may be futile.
The group may be so effective that any complaints that go forward to a HR manager are trivialised and there is nothing to say that managers themselves may not be in the web of corruption themselves. It is not inconceivable that the HR manager is part of the “in” group and therefore can create an air of efficiency while in reality only going through the motions of investigating any complaints and closing the case after some fairly routine file notes have been made.

Alliances are an effective cover

In relation to alliances, their formation is pertinent because they are an effective cover for corrupt activities – as we’ve mentioned beforehand anything from using a company credit card inappropriately to fraud involving millions. Employees who form alliances can maintain their strength by making sure everyone keeps quiet and this can manifest itself in other ways too. They include the promotion of a corrupt worker and can mean that the web of deceit is widened even further as other employees are included in the circle. It is also a mirror into the acceptance of corrupt behaviour in more senior ranks.
Another way it is difficult for whistle blowers to be heard in such an environment is when a culture of “jobs for mates” becomes the norm. So that the culture of corruption in the workplace flourishes, there may be subtle and not so subtle methods adopted to push for someone to be promoted or for a corrupt manager to only promote those who work within “the system”. This can mean that people without the appropriate qualifications are given more senior roles and again reinforces the corrupt workplace culture where the social identity keeps workers in check.

To find out more about how corruption in the workplace can affect your business, download this free eBook here.

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist.

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