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How to Speak Up about Ethical Issues at Work

Not everyone is a saint. You might have to work with a few devils from time to time, but what should you do when you have actually witnessed dishonest behavior? Amy Gallo offers advice at Harvard Business Review.

The Light Side and the Dark Side

Firstly, be weary of rationalizing what you think you saw. If you try to decide that it is “not a big deal” or “it’s someone else’s responsibility to take care of it,” it is likely already a big deal in the first place. But then again—maybe not. The example is offered of an employee who regularly leaves work early: If this person always completes all of his or her work in a timely manner, is it worth it to call out the person on leaving early? A moral gray area might exist there. In any case, you should weigh the value of the “damage” that could be done to the business and to the person if you speak up, and if that damage is worthwhile.

Additionally, keep in mind that not all dishonesty is utterly damning. Consider the perspective of others and their rationale for deviance:

[A lady] was asked by her boss to hide the firm’s underperformance over the previous year… Her boss wanted her to find a different benchmark that would make it look like the firm had done OK… The woman thought about her boss’s goal in this scenario and “decided that he wasn’t invested in being unethical but he wanted to get through a tough conversation with a client that afternoon.” This information helped the woman decide how to respond to his request because she now understood “what was at risk for him” and instead of doing what he asked, she could provide him with information that would help him get through the conversation.

If dishonest activity is worth raising protest over, then go to the perpetrator first. Rehearse what you will say in advance though. Ask questions about what you saw, and do not directly accuse the person of anything. Maybe you can get the person to correct his or her behavior without escalating the matter. If not, make sure to get some allies and (if possible) records of conversations prepared before you report the person. You want to make sure you do not get burned for doing the right thing.

You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2015/06/how-to-speak-up-about-ethical-issues-at-work

About John Friscia

Profile photo of John Friscia
John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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