Knowing When to Speak Up
Unethical behavior can happen in any level of the business world, from employees all the way up the ladder and this can make knowing when to speak up difficult. But, the root of truly ethical practices is having integrity, an aspect of which is standing up for your values and beliefs. This creates a catch-22 in situations where you’re observing unethical behavior and don’t speak up. Although speaking up can feel intimidating, it’s an important part of both taking care of yourself and creating more productive and healthy work environments. If you’re unsure when something qualifies as lacking ethics the following guide can help you determine which behaviors might be worth speaking up about.
An Overview of Unethical Behaviors in the Workplace
In a global survey conducted by the Ethics & Compliance Initiative, 1 out of 5 workers have felt corporate pressure to compromise their standards. The last time the ECI conducted research in the United States was 2013 and they found that 41% of workers had witnessed misconduct on the job and that most often these unethical actions were perpetrated by managers. There are five common behaviors that get reported.
- Misuse of company time: Things like covering for someone who’s late, altering a time sheet, or conducting personal business while on the clock are all considered unethical.
- Abusive behavior: 1 in 5 works find their workplace hostile or threatening. Abusive behavior covers a multitude of actions, from sexual harassment to racism to gaslighting.
- Employee theft: These types of incidents include manipulating reimbursement expenses, check tampering, and not recording sales, as well as the actual physical act of stealing property.
- Lying to employees: Research suggests that humans tell an average of 2 lies a day. Even your boss is not exempt from the occasional lie, but regardless of the reason, lies are still an unethical practice.
- Violating company Internet policies: If your business has certain procedures and rules around use of the internet, violating these is considered unethical. For example, surfing the internet, downloading video, or sending personal emails. In fact, according to the IDC 30-40% of employee internet use is not work-related.
Speaking Up Against Unethical Behaviors at Work
Now, when it comes to noting and speaking up against unethical actions in your work environment it’s important to remember the nuanced nature of ethics. Some actions may be worth your time and others may not. To navigate this gray area, ask yourself if these actions violate the mission or values of the company. If the answer to that question is no, then ask yourself if they violate your values—that may be why you feel uncomfortable. If you find something unethical but it isn’t directly related to your company, it may be better to speak to this person one-on-one rather than contacting HR.
But if the situation is in direct violation of your company’s policies or the national standard of business ethics, it’s definitely time to speak up. For example, when Wells Fargo went under fire after 5,300 employees were found to be engaging in fraudulent activity. After employee Bill Bado discovered this shocking secret he immediately spoke up and then faced retaliation, a common outcome as businesses try to salvage their brand integrity. Bado was terminated for being “tardy” just a few weeks after contacting the HR department’s ethics tip line. But, conducting yourself ethically means you have a duty to speak up and Bado stayed true to his morals. As CEO of Aflak, Dan Amos points out, “If you’re only partially ethical then you’re partially unethical too.”
Speaking out against behavior unethical behavior doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it seems. While our individual expectations of each other may vary, a business must conduct itself according to a set of values. This gives you standards to which you can hold yourself and others accountable and makes the conversation around ethics easier. You have the power to jumpstart the culture of ethics in your company by speaking up. Your voice is powerful and you can use it whenever you need it.