Are Ethics Crystal Clear?
Employees overwhelmingly say they would report unethical behavior at work, but only 4 in 10 actually do, according to a 2022 Gallup survey. They are intimidated by groupthink and feel pressure not to rock the boat or worry about the consequences of speaking up and drawing attention to themselves.
I recently watched an old movie, City Slickers. One of the characters challenges his buddy by asking him if he'd cheat on his wife if she would never find out. He sets up the scenario and says, "She'll never know. Are you telling me you wouldn't do it?"
The buddy says he wouldn't do it and, when pushed, says, "I would know."
That's how most of us are. If we made mistakes in the past, we have a hard time letting them go and have learned that it's easier to do the right thing and be able to sleep at night. Unfortunately, employees are sometimes expected to violate their own integrity to succeed at work. I've been in that situation several times, and it's not easy. Do I expose a dishonest person and lose my job, hurt my reputation in the industry, and possibly limit future opportunities, or is there another way to deal with it effectively?
Self-preservation is a strong motivator.
I once worked with a company whose senior manager acted inappropriately with female interns in the office. It was early in my career, and I knew I was supposed to do something about it. I didn't want to lose my job and felt the pressure of sticking my neck out. I spoke with the company's owner to ensure he and I were on the same page and then addressed the situation. When the manager ran to the owner to try to get me fired, the owner said, "Scott is doing exactly what we're paying him to do."
He supported me in doing the right thing and reinforcing the culture he'd worked hard to create. And even though it was about protecting the women, confronting the senior manager felt a lot like it was about me. The defensiveness and the anger directed at me were real.
Employees hope to avoid that kind of situation by not speaking up when they see something unsavory. I've learned that it's less common than you'd think to work for someone who always does the right thing.
It's the reason I'm at Thread. Lori winters, our founder and owner, has proven multiple times that she's going to do the right thing. It's not easy, and it's often not convenient or cheap, but it's the right thing to do. I can count on her for that, and it sets the tone for the rest of us.
If you choose to violate your own ethical standards at work, you'll know. You'll remember. Even if it works out for you, you'll know, and you'll resent the people who put you in that situation and yourself for going along with it. If you're lucky enough to find a place where there's no tension between your personal ethics and those of the company, go there. It's worth it.