You overhear an offensive remark or a conversation about an unethical business practice at work that doesn’t directly affect your role with the company.
You feel the need to report it. Not only because it impacts business or the bottom line. Because it impacts another human.
We are conditioned to help others – until it’s uncomfortable. The minute that a situation gets sticky, our self-protection mode kicks into gear and we struggle to rattle cages with people who intimidate us. We don’t want to bring attention to ourselves. We’re afraid to step on toes.
As one of my favorite business leaders on LinkedIn, Mark Smith, likes to say: “If you don’t want to step on toes, tell them to move their feet.”
I’ve been part of workplace controversies. I’ve spoken my mind when things are out of bounds. But I’ve also been a part of meetings where I didn’t step up. Didn’t protect. Didn’t defend.
Those are the moments that have found permanency in my mind.
The truth is, when you feel that something unethical or demeaning is happening at work, it’s up to you to address it. Period.
How you address it – there is no one-size-fits-all playbook – will determine if you are actually able to make positive change in your organization.
Take it to the Top?
Let’s say you’re working on a smaller team and you notice some distasteful business practices occurring. You might think about consulting with a few of your team members to get their thoughts. This approach, however, can spiral out of control quickly, especially if the people you’re confiding in may not have your best interests at heart.
In a smaller company, you likely have the opportunity to go directly to your leadership team with a tough conversation. If you’re worried about how they will react, trust your judgement of their ability to handle an uncomfortable topic and plan your approach accordingly.
The best leaders I’ve worked for are able to do two things:
• Accept constructive criticism.
• Control their emotions.
You may be wasting your conversation on a leader unable to rationally, maturely discuss a point of conflict. In this case, you would be better off to find a leader one step below with whom you feel comfortable and confident in sharing your concerns.
Keep it Confidential?
In a larger organization, you may not have immediate access to key decision-makers within the organization.
Maybe you work remotely and have never meet your Chief Executive Officer. Maybe there are so many layers between you and the leadership team that it would take multiple, difficult efforts on your part to get your message across. And maybe even then, you may be concerned about your personal ability to influence change.
Larger companies have fully functioning human resources organizations and employee handbooks to help with these uncomfortable situations. Be sure to align your approach with the processes that are already put in place.
You can also consider making a confidential complaint. This can achieve your goals of reporting an unethical situation without having to directly confront an unstable or unreachable leader.
Workplace drama is never fun. But drama is different than law-breaking, dehumanizing behavior. As humans first and co-workers second, let’s challenge ourselves to be a positive voice for change. The alternative is enabling this type of behavior and living with our decisions to not protect the people around us.
Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Check out www.workhappiest.com for his WorkHappy Spotlights or email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on finding career joy.