Research tells us that the vast majority of people are disinclined to steal money from their social club chocolate box. However, they might occasionally help themselves to a chocolate. Are these two actions different?

Taking a $2 chocolate from the social club chocolate box without paying for it is dishonest at best and stealing at worst. However, many people would not necessarily see this type of conduct as stealing.

How many chocolates would a person need to take before it would be perceived as stealing and be popularly understood as a problem? Where is the integrity line and who decides where that line is?

Concepts of right and wrong are culturally constructed. Each organisation and sometimes units and departments within an organisation, have their own culture and micro cultures that determine how people conduct themselves and what is deemed as acceptable and unacceptable conduct. These standards are often arbitrary and applied inconsistently.

Helping yourself to the occasional free chocolate, a little bit of stationery, or knocking off 15 minutes early without declaring it on your timesheet, are the types of things that in some environments go unnoticed or without comment.

The perceived insignificance of this type of conduct may not demand that we examine our personal integrity when we partake in such activities. However, accepting an integrity line that starts anywhere other than zero acceptance of dishonest conduct, can have significant unintended consequences.

If ten people take a chocolate every week for an entire year, the social club has effectively had over $1000 stolen from it. If each of the 104,000 people who are employed in the public sector take home a ream of paper a year, $780,000 worth of public funds simply disappear. If those same public sector employees misrepresent their working hours by 15 minutes a week on their timesheet, the public purse could be out of pocket by over $54 million dollars a year. No one involved in these perceived ‘minor’ transgressions would have intended to be part of a syndicate that stole money from the social club or the public sector, but that is what has happened.

The most effective way of eradicating this type of conduct is through building workplace integrity. An ethical and professional workplace, where standards and values are known, understood and demonstrated will assist in guarding your organisation against improper conduct.

This article was published in Issue 5 - September 2016 of ICAC's newsletter.