So you think you’ve got problems? What about corporate executives, who may not know that employees have a tendency to turn a blind eye to unethical practices – big or small? They may be a problem in and of itself.
Joseph Grenny, best-selling author of “Crucial Accountability” and keynote speaker at the 6th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Nov. 3-6, in Las Vegas, said potential whistle blowers who remain silent can produce grave consequences. Not all misdeeds are as obvious as others, like embezzlement, but any infractions in the workplace can have long-term effects when not brought to the attention of supervisors.
An online survey of 926 people backs up claims by the co-founder of VitalSmarts, who said whistle blowers are the exception rather than the rule. Grenny says that while 63 percent of the respondents regularly witness both minor and major ethical infractions, employees confront only half of the unethical behavior they witness at work.
Grenny said that the top three minor ethical violations include taking credit for someone else’s work, taking extra long breaks and calling in sick when actually well. A third of the respondents reported seeing one of these minor infractions in the last week. On the other end of the spectrum, taking unfair revenge, embezzling significant value and coercing sexual favors are the most common major infractions observed. When these more gross violations are suspected, only one in four employees confront their unethical colleague.
Most employees decide to keep a closed-mouth approach to unethical behavior for fear of damaging their careers; the perpetrator will become harder to work with; they won’t be take seriously; and they are just not sure how to express their concerns.
“While biting your lip may make your job easier in the short term, it does little to preserve productive working relationships and profitable organizations,” said Grenny, who spoke before some 2,000 delegates – hospital administrators, physicians and clinicians, employers, insurance executives, government policymakers and travel and entities, at Caesars Palace. “History reveals a long line of washed-up leaders and immoral companies that are eventually ousted for their crimes. That’s why it’s in every employee’s best interest to hold colleagues accountable for unethical behavior.”
Ethical Climates Created
The study showed that those who speak up about small infractions are six times more likely to speak up about a major one — suggesting that ethical climates are created more likely if and when employees feel enabled to blow the whistle.
For employees who observe real bad behavior, violations, or even crimes, Grenny offers eight tips to blow the whistle without blowing a career:
1. First, tend to your safety. If raising the issue to the offender directly will cause you harm, seek security, human resources or legal assistance. If not, take the following steps.
2. Gather data. Given that you’re likely to encounter confusion and denial, gather all the data you can to help make your case. The clearer your data, the more likely you are to be persuasive.
3. Avoid conspiracy. If you have an obligation to report the offense to supervisors or other agencies, do so immediately. If the lapse is offensive, but not reportable, confront the individual in a respectful, but direct way.
4. Start by sharing your good intentions. Begin by letting the other person know you have his or her best interest in mind. This shows your purpose is not to question motives or authority, but to deal with a possible problem before it spins out of control.
5. Share your facts. Lay out the concern using data — strip your explanation of any judgment or accusation. For example, don’t say, “You stole office supplies.” Rather say, “I noticed you placed a ream of copy paper in your briefcase.”
6. Tentatively share your concerns. As suspicious as the activity may seem or how clear your observations, there might be a reasonable explanation. Use tentative terms and expressions. For example, “I’m not exactly sure of what I saw today, but I was tempted to conclude…”
7. Get the other person’s point of view. Once you’ve described what you think you saw, ask the offender for his or her perspective. But, be careful — you are not inviting his or her view in order to surrender yours — just to ensure you have all the facts. Listen for information not excuses.
8. Take it up a level. Finally, if you can’t work it out to your satisfaction, either take it to your boss (if he or she isn’t the party in question) or take it to human resources. You’ve shown your respect by talking directly to the offender and now you’re going to have to involve another party.