Workplace

November 1, 2013

How to blow the whistle without blowing your career

It takes courage to approach a co-worker when you see wrongdoing, but it’s the right thing to do — ethically and for the organization — if you can skillfully speak to the wrongdoer. The goal is to stop the unethical behavior without damaging your own career.

Someone you work with is doing something unethical. What do you do about it?

If you’re like most workers, you’ll ignore it about half the time. That’s what Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Accountability, found when he surveyed workers for his research.

It’s possible there’s a general decline in ethics or such antipathy toward employers that employees don’t care. But Grenny found these top reasons why workers said they haven’t blown the whistle on wrongdoing:

It would have made the offender harder to work with.

I was concerned it would damage my career.

I didn’t think it would be taken seriously.

I wasn’t sure how to bring up my concerns.

The fact that offending the offender was a big concern speaks to the importance of interpersonal relationships at work. People who get along are more likely to support each other, get good raises, assignments and promotions. People who don’t get along are more likely to cause trouble for each other.

Not withstanding the consequences, we’re encouraged to speak up — to the offender first — when we see wrongdoing. Here are Grenny’s tips to “blow the whistle without blowing your career”:

Gather information to back up what you think you saw or know.

Confront the individual, directly but repectfully. Say you have good intentions. Tell the offender you’re not questioning motives or authority, but you want to stop a perceived problem before it worsens.

Tell the facts you’ve seen. Don’t state your judgments or accusations. Be open to hear an explanation or get more information from the offender to make sure your interpretation is correct.

Not satisfied or more troubled? Take it up the ladder to bosses, human resources, a lawyer or regulatory agency.

And, always, seek help from security, human resources or a lawyer if you fear for your safety.

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