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Does a ‘compliance culture’ approach work?

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read

“Compliance culture” may not be the way forward, as according to a new study, it has a limited impact on addressing the uncertainty of employee compliance.

A recent Gartner survey has highlighted the disconnect between an ethical culture and employee compliance.

There are three primary situations that lead to non-compliance: situations of uncertainty (not understanding how to comply), rationalisation (thinking that non-compliance is not wrong in a certain context), and malice (not complying despite knowing it is wrong).


Chris Audet, a researcher at Gartner, stated: “Compliance culture is a valuable part of mitigating misconduct, but it isn’t the best way to address the most common situation leading to employee non-compliance: uncertainty.”

According to the survey, uncertainty was the most experienced situation leading to employee non-compliance. The study found that 87 per cent of respondents said they faced situations where they didn’t know how to comply. This was followed by 77 per cent of respondents who experienced situations of rationalisation and 40 per cent experiencing situations of malice.

The 40 per cent of employees said they had been contemplating non-compliance even when they were aware that it was the wrong thing to do. This is a major concern in terms of organisational leadership. Measures must be put in place to ensure that these momentary feelings of anger do not lead to deliberate acts of non-compliance or misconduct.

Moving away from strictly compliance culture as the answer, and instead putting improved quality standards in place could be the fix. According to the Gartner report, the design of policies, training, communications, and tools has over double the impact of compliance culture on reducing uncertainty.

Although compliance culture has a greater impact on reducing situations of rationalisation and malice, the design of policies, training, communications, and tools are deemed to be just as important, if not more important. It’s crucial that businesses, instead of primarily focusing on one, have that balancing act between the two.

Most businesses at the moment strictly focus on compliance culture, disregarding quality standards. However, due to uncertainty being the most common driver of non-compliance, it is likely that widening the focus to include quality standards could yield better overall improvements in employee compliance.

“Quality standards also have a strong positive influence on compliance culture. Therefore, a focus on quality standards should yield improvements in all situations that cause non-compliance, not just uncertainty,” concluded Audet.



Compliance often refers to a company's and its workers' adherence to corporate rules, laws, and codes of conduct.


Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.


An employee is a person who has signed a contract with a company to provide services in exchange for pay or benefits. Employees vary from other employees like contractors in that their employer has the legal authority to set their working conditions, hours, and working practises.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.