The research showed that misdemeanours were more acceptable when it was less clear who was being disadvantaged as a result.
For example, while only 10% of women and 8% of men thought it acceptable to go to a communal fridge and take another staff member’s milk, 49% of people felt it was acceptable to take a low value item, such as a pen, pencil or post-it note, from their workplace.
When asked “How acceptable is it to make up to 10 photocopies without paying?” almost three in five of people found this acceptable, with seven out of 10 18-29 year olds saying this was acceptable and half of 50-59 year olds.
The responses differed when the value of items was increased.
When asked if it would be acceptable to take medium value items from work, such as a hole-punch or stapler, only one in five deemed the taking of a hole-punch or stapler from work as acceptable, compared to 3% of people for a computer keyboard, mouse or monitor.
Further exploring the nature of professional work relationships, respondents were asked: “How acceptable is it to divulge confidential information at work about a colleague to that colleague?”
Just over one in five said this was acceptable, younger people were the most likely to believe this (27% of 18-29s), with 23% of men versus 18% of women finding this acceptable.
Another question posed a hypothetical scenario around the issue of finding money at work: “How acceptable is it to find money in a communal bathroom at work and keep it rather than hand it to Human Resources (HR)?”
Over three in five respondents said this was “never acceptable at any amount”, with 58% of men versus 63% of women agreeing.
People’s behaviour was found to change as the value rose: 35% would keep £1 or more, 29% would keep £2 or more, 23% would keep £5 or more and only 12% would keep £10 or more.
Entitlement vs loss
Rebecca Aston, Cisi Ethics and Integrity Manager said: “The survey results suggest that, on the whole, our feelings of allegiance and commitment to our work colleagues are paramount when the issue of trust arises.
“A variance of behaviour seems to occur when people are faced with everyday decisions, which could lead, in effect, to the stealing of nominal sum items from their employer. In these scenarios, individual behaviour indicates that there is a sense of entitlement, in that an employer should carry a certain amount of commercial loss.”
The Cisi survey of 2,056 adults was conducted by YouGov 11-18 October 2016.