Michael’s Critique Of Pragmatical Reason IV: Ethical Fading Part II – Recognizing Ethical Fading


Recognizing Ethical Fading

So what are we to do as Ethics & Compliance Professionals? What are signs (red flags) to alert us that Ethical Fading might be at work? And what could we and others in the organization do once we recognize some?

The following is a list of some verbal red flags (euphemisms) for Ethical Fading:

  • We could say that . . .
  • Judgment call
  • It is too complicated to explain
  • Aggressive accounting
  • Technically speaking
  • Let’s keep this under our hats
  • This conversation did not happen
  • People would never know
  • I don’t want to know details
  • Collateral damage
  • Do whatever it takes
  • There is no personal gain, so it is not an ethics issue.

On the behavioral side, one can observe for instance the delegation of unethical actions or putting a “spin” on facts if an incident or situation and as a consequence answers that appear to be rehearsed or an excessive use of superlatives (“outstanding”, “fantastic”, “superb”).

So what can we do?

To counteract Ethical Fading, the first step is of course to acknowledge its existence and be aware that it may affect us – all of us (we as Ethics & Compliance Professionals are not immune).

We should also accept that Ethics & Compliance trainings alone are not enough. After all, Ethical Fading means that people act against the rules despite their better knowledge.

So what is it that we can do? Here are some ideas:


Working on Integrity Culture is never finished. Ethical fading is a counteracting force that constantly erodes the Integrity Culture. It comes from basic human nature and is driven by the four mechanisms of neutralization, rationalization, normalization and justification. Cognitive biases play an important role. Pressure can trigger ethical fading. Compliance training alone is not sufficient to counteract. Awareness of its existence is the start; everyone should be alert for verbal and behavioral red flags. Principled thinking, habitual inclusion of ethical dimensions, allowing for failure and creating psychological safety can be effective countermeasures.

This post was first published on Michael’s personal blog “Risk Reflections”.

Michael Kuckein, Sandoz TR, Ethics and Compliance Director, CIA, CISA, CCSA, CRISC, CRMA

The author contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the views of TEİD.