The Simple Dollar tackled this question this week, and it really got me thinking. I must admit that I was surprised at the non-confrontational I can’t be a tattler sentiment in the article and in the comments. Somehow it feels frustrating that this is the accepted culture of business, but I guess that is reality. If I am honest with myself, it isn’t any easy decision for me either.
With as a backdrop I wanted to explore some of the feeling and perspectives that feed into our current ethical reality.
- Reporting someone else’s unethical behavior reminds us of all our own failures. No one is perfect; we would rather not face our own rough edges, so we don’t want to bring up someone else’s.
- We don’t want others reporting/exposing us.
- We fear ruining relationships with our coworkers.
- We fear being wrong and being humiliated by making false accusations.
- We don’t think the behavior is all that bad.
- We don’t think about the personal impact these situations can have. Unethical behaviors in the workplace have unseen consequences. Often our own ethical standards are subconsciously lowered. Resentment by other group members can arise. Coworker productivity can be affected.
- We don’t trust our companies to handle the situation with tact. Maybe they will overreact to a small infraction, or maybe they won’t address a major infraction. Or maybe they will force us to take front stage throughout the whole investigation.
- We don’t think about the company’s perspective. Try framing the situation such that you are a business owner. Would you want to know when someone is cooking the books, or selling office supplies on eBay, or not working all of their hours?
- People assume that management already knows. Although it is often the case that management isn’t as in touch with the day to day operations as we think.
I am not going to go into detail about which of those are good or bad, but the list can provide us with excellent thought points. Personally, I would love to see companies create cultures where unethical behavior is not accepted(that includes within me). They need to recognize that pointing out someone’s unethical behavior is a very hard decision, and create a policy and culture that helps make that decision as easy as possible. This includes handling each case tactfully and appropriately.
Below is a poll that will attempt to capture the overall sentiment towards reporting unethical behavior: