Integrity In The Workplace
Do What's Right-Even It Risks
Sam Louie :
I'm always amazed at the level of sacrifice involved when I hear stories of whistleblowers (such as films like The Insider or Icarus) or employees standing up to employers or taking a stand at work. It could be that of a whistleblower who takes a stand against malfeasance, employees who take a stand against unfair wages, or employees who take a stand against harassment or a hostile work environment.
One recent, high-profile case involved former CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, who in May of this year came forward and told his story of being fired after he shared his complaints with the network. During a recent interview on CNN, Pelley said he went to his former boss with complaints that "this hostile work environment couldn't go on, for women and men [â€¦] And he told me if I kept agitating about that internally then I'd lose my job." But for years, he argued that a culture of sexual harassment and workplace hostility went ignored, and when he tried to press the issue, his contract was eventually allowed to lapse.
While Pelley's complaints were made known publicly because of his position and stature within the news industry, just imagine the majority of similar complaints lodged against companies throughout the United States that get no attention.
People may think they're following a company's "code of conduct" by making the report, but what they may not realize is that when HR is made aware of the situation, HR is working on behalf of the company/employer and not the employee. They do not realize HR is not their friend. HR's job is to limit employer liability, even if it means minimizing an employee's complaint. There are numerous companies who, through such actions, have been found to be irresponsible and subsequently are mandated to go through formal training (i.e., sexual harassment training, diversity training, etc.).
While companies may lose a settlement here or there, endure mandated trainings, or get a public relations black-eye, many are able to rebound, because they have the resources to do so. But what moves me are the countless employees who stick their necks out to right a wrong due to their ethical values, even at the risk of losing their jobs.
Having worked in the corporate world myself, I know what putting integrity above one's job security means on a gut level. Not long ago, I was placed in a situation to either turn a blind eye to what I deemed a hostile work environment, which included harassment (even a pattern of racial targeting) and unethical behaviors asked of me by a manager, or face consequences.
As an Asian-American male, my normal mode then was one of minimization and deference: "Let's not make too big of a deal of this," "Let's see the good in the other person," "She means well, right?" Issues that should have been confronted were left to fester and grow until a tipping point came when I had to either continue to allow certain behaviors to persist, and thus be considered complicit, or take a stand. But elevating it to HR it could lead to professional suicide.
I chose professional suicide over the status quo. My conscience would not allow me to sleep at night if I knowingly allowed that manager to continue creating and perpetuating a hostile work environment to myself and possibly others.
It did not end well, as I lost my job and was alienated from those whom I grew to know and trust. Co-workers turned on me, including my boss. Other co-workers were forbidden to talk to me. I was made to feel like the bad apple. But despite that horrendous ordeal, what I learned from that experience is a greater appreciation for working-class Americans who have made similar courageous complaints on behalf of their conscience. To all employees who feel they have no voice in corporate America, I want you to know that even if your concerns were never validated, I hear you.
(Sam Louie is a therapist in Seattle who specializes in multicultural issues and sexual compulsivity).