If you’ve ever seen unethical behavior in the workplace, you may not have known how to react. And, you aren’t alone. In a recent study of 900 workers, 63 percent admitted to witnessing an unethical incident.
So, what should you do if you see something that shouldn’t be happening on the job?
Know the Facts
First, don’t rely on gossip and speculation. Unless you witness the behavior, you can’t assume the rumors are true. Second, recognize the difference between behaviors that break the rules and behaviors that bother you. You may disagree with an affair between two co-workers. However, they may not be breaking any company regulations.
Have a Personal Conversation
Only if you feel comfortable doing so, approach your co-worker in private. Avoid accusations and instead, express concern and support. “I noticed you took ten boxes of office supplies home last week. Is something wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?” Obviously, this tactic may not work. Your colleague may become upset or angry. Keep a level head and back off if necessary.
Ask for Advice
Especially if the guilty co-worker is a friend, you may have mixed feelings about reporting. Approach your supervisor or an HR professional within in your organization for advice and support. At this point, you don’t need to give names or details. You could simply describe a hypothetical situation to learn what might be your best course of action.
Follow Company Policy
Most employee handbooks outline the steps required to report unethical behavior. You may need to document incidents and/or work directly with your human resources department. Make sure you know and understand all the rules before you begin the process.
Look for Another Job
You may discover your organization has a reputation for ignoring misdeeds. Or, you may realize workplace behaviors you find disturbing are neither illegal nor against corporate policies. In either of these cases, you probably joined the wrong organization. Update your resume, reach out to your network and start searching the job boards. Your best bet is to move on.
What If Things Are More Serious Than You Thought?
Sometimes a seemingly minor incident can turn out to be larger than expected. If you uncover illegal activities connected to the upper levels of your company, your career may be in danger. Seek legal advice and representation before taking any action.
Finally, unethical behavior often presents a sticky situation. For example, in the study of 900 workers, the top three most common bad behaviors listed were 1) taking credit for someone else’s work; 2) indulging in extra-long breaks; and 3) calling in sick when well. (Entrepreneur, 2015) As you can see, none of these situations has a clear-cut solution.
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