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From large corporations to small businesses, individuals involved in all types of business often face ethical issues stemming from employee behavior. Organizations depend on the work ethics of its employees who are at key positions or otherwise. An employee’s unethical conduct in professional as well as personal life in several instances can therefore mar the firm’s reputation and business.

Any unsuitable behavior inside or outside office which amounts to breaching of the said laws needs to be dealt with immediately.

There are many instances where it is necessary for an employee to speak up about unethical issues at workplace. How do you know when it’s worth speaking up or not? How can one protect themselves from potential consequences of calling out bad behavior? And when one decides to say something, what should they say and to whom?

Ethics in business

Expert’s opinion

Even minor issues can have serious consequences. Ethical situations at work can be cause for alarm, and are also a normal part of doing business. The key is to not let either of those realities prevent the employee and the company from making a rational decision. When it comes to ethics, we think it’s a test of our moral identity, which makes us more emotional, less effective, and vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to not only know how to recognize an ethical issue but how to raise it!

Especially, the one that may be more of a gray area. There is no one strategy or answer for all situations. The key is to practice ahead of time, before a situation arrives so you’re ready when it does. Here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself in a sticky situation.

Watch for rationalizations

The most common rationalizations include: It’s not a big deal or it is someone else’s responsibility. Statements like these allow us to recognize the problem and still feel not feel bad about not doing anything about it. If you find yourself rationalizing in this way, question your underlying assumption.

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Consider what’s really at risk

Ask yourself: What part of the the value system is under violation here? Consider whether it’s important to just you personally or to the larger group, either your team or the organization. Being clear about the issue will help you accurately weigh the pros and cons of addressing it.

Understand why people are acting the way they are

A useful skill when it comes to ethical situations is perspective-taking. Rather than casting your colleague as bad, seek to understand the reasons behind his/her actions. Typically, people have an understandable (if not defensible) motivation. People enter in lot of trouble for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they are forced to!. Sometimes they are afraid of losing their job. Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes and try to understand what they’re trying to achieve.

Weigh the pros and cons

Only each of us individually can decide which issues we’re willing to lay it on the line for.

What would be the benefit of speaking up?

What would the consequences be if you didn’t?

One of the biggest pros of saying something is that you might help the business, especially if the unethical behavior puts the company at risk of a lawsuit, damaging an important customer relationship, or losing money. You might also feel better about yourself if you don’t stay silent. There may be consequences and there may be times that you don’t speak up because the positives don’t outweigh the negatives.

Talk to the perpetrator first

When you suspect someone is acting unethically, in most cases, you should talk to the perpetrator first. It’s often better to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that, when he sees how his behavior is perceived, he’ll change.

Giving them an opportunity to correct wrong doings is important. At least you will get an explanation for the behaviour. That said, if the violation is a particularly serious one, with potentially grave consequences, you may need to go to your boss, speak to HR, or call your company’s ethics hotline immediately.

Rehearse the talk

Talk about the situation to an unbiased person in an open way. It will help your reasoning and develop an action plan .

Never accuse, inquire

Giving a lecture on morality is never the right way to go about it. It might backfire. The person might suddenly get defensive. A better place to start would be to ask questions instead of making assertions.

Use phrases like: “Can you help me understand…” This will help if the person isn’t aware they’re doing something wrong and your questioning might allow them to see the problem.

Second, asking questions is a safe way to determine if the target is going to be open to discussing this issue or whether you need to pursue another avenue.

Escalate when necessary

If your colleague reacts negatively to your questioning, then avoid further discussions. You may schedule a meeting with your boss thinking you are uncomfortable with the information you have. At each step of the way, be open to what you’re hearing. But, be open to varied perspectives.

Protect yourself

Retaliation is real! It’s never 100% safe to speak. You’ve got to protect yourself. Always keep a record of relevant conversations and enlisting allies to support you if things go sideways.

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