Via Fast Company : Ethical issues at work can be both a gray area and a minefield. Here’s how to determine if it’s worth speaking up, and what to say when you do.
A coworker is spotted stealing pricey office supplies. Another isn’t coming clean about the fact that they’re having trouble completing an important project. Still another is getting creative with the company financials. Are any of these deeds worth reporting? And if so, can you do so without earning a reputation as a tattletale?
Part of the reason ethical issues get so sticky is that we believe they are a test of our morals, which can lead us to make less rational decisions. But even when emotions are left out, ethical issues at work are rarely black and white. Motivations to turn a blind eye when we know something doesn’t pass the smell test include a fear of speaking out against those with more power, a conflict of interest, and a loosening of standards.
This kind of reasoning is behind some of the biggest ethical breaches in recent history, such as the garment factory fire in Bangladesh, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, even the failure to report Jerry Sandusky’s crimes, according to Harvard professor Max Bazerman.
Recent research indicates that leaders may self-select based on whether the industry has ethics challenges. Both men and women pursue prestigious careers, but Jessica Kennedy, a management professor at Vanderbilt University, posits that gender may play a role in which industries they gravitate towards.
In an experiment where participants had to record their level of moral outrage at particular scenarios, women exhibited greater reservations about sacrificing ethical values than men did. When Kennedy told participants that a particular job required them to compromise ethical values, men’s interest in the position didn’t change, while the women’s dropped significantly.
Kennedy says that ethical standards are frequently seen as obstacles, rather than an integral part of excellent performance. She told Strategy+Business:
My data suggests that if you want to avoid ethical misconduct at your company, you might want some lower-ranking people or some people who don’t identify highly with your organization as part of the groups that are making important decisions. Ideally, you’d have a culture that encourages lower-ranking people to speak up when they perceive something to be unethical.
Until leaders uniformly implement such a policy, what’s the best way to tackle a touchy ethical issue if it’s happening in your workplace? A report in the offered some insights.
DON’T RATIONALIZE IT AWAY
Telling yourself it isn’t a big deal, or that it’s not in your job description to police others will only prolong a problem and potentially make it worse, because you are reframing the situation so you don’t have to feel bad about it. Instead, experts advise thinking about your underlying motivation for staying mum. Fear of retaliation is often made bigger in your mind.
WEIGH THE PROS AND CONS
Does it affect only you, your team, or the business as a whole? Assessing what is at risk—a lawsuit, money, a customer relationship—could reinforce the reason to either speak out or stay quiet.
GET ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
Namely that of the perpetrator. Understand why they may be acting in a certain way, and it may not be bad. For example, the person who skips out early may still be getting all their work done, just not during the same hours as everyone else. Others aren’t acting unethically as a whole, they may just want to alleviate the immediate burden of confrontation.
Talking to that person before going to their supervisor will give them the opportunity to explain and potentially change their ways. It’s important to remember to ask questions, and not immediately point an accusatory finger, which could backfire.
TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
If the person with questionable ethics is your boss, it’s best to proceed with caution. Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Accountability, tells Fast Company that you should begin by letting your boss know you have their best interest in mind. “This shows your purpose is not to question their authority, but to do the right thing.” Likewise, it is important to explain to them why you won’t participate in unethical practices, and what consequence you see as a result of the company’s bad behavior.
Via LinkedIn : We’ve all suffered a momentary lapse of memory at work. A fuzzy recollection of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.
As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remain true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.
Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.
Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. ) From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.
For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors, so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. (However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.)
Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.
What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee, and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.