What To Do When Your Boss Is Unethical

Handcuffs - niu-niu-600592-unsplash

When I was conducting my research that led to the Burnout During Organizational Change Model (B-DOC), I asked my participants to identify what they believed led to their burnout.  I didn’t offer any potential choices relating to what I thought caused burnout.  So, one particular finding left me, well, flabbergasted:

A disturbing 57.1% of my participants believed that their burnout was either caused or exacerbated by their manager’s requests for them to take ILLEGAL OR UNETHICAL ACTIONS.

This was over half of my participants!  An even more disturbing finding was that these requests were more prominent in participants who worked in nonprofit environments (66.7%) compared to those in for-profits (50%).

According to one female non-profit change leader, she felt that she had somehow become involved with “dirty people” because there were multiple requests for her to take illegal or unethical actions.

Another male for-profit change leader was adamant that he would not take the actions requested of him by his manager, stating, “I’m not going to do it.  I won’t.  It goes against everything I believe in.”  His manager’s response was simply, “You have to.”

What do you do when your boss asks – or even demands – that you take actions that you believe are unethical or know are illegal?  Sadly, this appears to be a growing challenge for the modern worker.

Some Reasons for Unethical Requests

Organizations are beginning to demand a higher level of ethics in their employees’ conduct.  Despite demanding that all employees read and sign the organization’s corporate ethics and compliance policy, the projected moral and legal commitments may not materialize.

The sad reality is that corporate ethics have been under increasing scrutiny as a result of a hypercompetitive marketplace.  When the competition is significant (even staggering), company leaders may resort to making business decisions that require employees to take actions that may not necessarily be illegal, but can be perceived as unethical.

While some of these decisions have led to public scandal and disgrace (such as Enron), it appears that far too many companies are “flying under the radar” of conventional ethics, yet still achieving success.  For example, companies may use misleading product information or unfair competition practices in order to gain market share.  Corporate financial reports may be manipulated to cast a better light on their financials.

Any and all of these unethical decisions are made by employees.

In today’s űber competitive marketplace, some managers believe that a strong commitment to ethical behavior unfairly limits their ability to create desired organizational results.  So, they rationalize the underlying ethos of their decisions and demand that their subordinates do the same.

In other words, organizational demands can create a powerful environment in which ethical people behave unethically

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review noted that, although there has been progress in building more ethical enterprises, 41% of surveyed workers reported seeing ethical misconduct in their workplaces within the previous 12 months.

The ways in which unethical behaviors are displayed in the workplace vary.  In my research, participants characterized their managers’ behaviors as unethical when there was constant swearing, inappropriate comments, yelling, screaming, and even harassment.  Such poor communication was a precursor to burnout in 64.3% of cases.  This lack of values-based, ethical management practices led to treatment of employees that bordered on being inhumane.

Put another way, burned out employees were often the victims of unethical bullying by managers.

Bullying is defined as “any unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.”  According to ACAS (a nonprofit in the U.K.), bullying and harassment are similar unethical workplace behaviors which may or may not be readily apparent in the workplace.

Even though they are similar, “harassment” under U.S. law has special meaning and protections that are not afforded to bullying.  According to research conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, most bullying is not accompanied by illegal harassment – meaning that:

80% of bullying provides NO legal recourse for its victims. 

Although there are currently no laws against bullying in the U.S., it is gratifying that 30 states and 2 territories have introduced anti-bullying legislation in The Healthy Workplace Bill.

The importance of anti-bullying law is reinforced due to the rise in such behavior across organizational hierarchies.  In 2018, Forbes magazine reported that nearly 75% of employees have been affected by workplace bullying.  Whether the bullying is initiated by a supervisor or a coworker, it is always considered to be a type of power struggle between the parties.

NOTE:  Although the participants in my research did not specifically cite “bullying” as a cause of their burnout, bullies tend to be poor leaders and withhold resources.  This combination of poor leadership and a lack of necessary organizational resources to do the job was cited by 92.9% of my participants.  Additionally, the lack of organizational caring (which are often displayed in the tactics by used by bullying managers) contributed to burnout in 85.7% overall.

How to Respond to Unethical Requests

Whether these managerial requests are the result of a culture that tolerates such behavior or reflect a management personality that uses power (or bullying) to pressure workers to behave unethically, the individual must still deal with the effects of these requests.

A recent New York Times article gave the benefit of the doubt to the manager:  perhaps your boss made the unethical request unwittingly.  Similarly, a BusinessInsider.com article warned of the importance in making sure that you fully understand the situation surrounding your boss’s unethical request.

However, once such a request has been made, the quandary for many workers lies in the potential ramifications of complying:

  • Will you be held complicit and liable if the unethical request is discovered?
  • Will you face retaliation if you report the unethical request to your boss’s boss or HR?
  • If you comply, will subsequent requests require even greater ethical challenges?
  • Finally, can you continue to work in an environment in which you must act in a way that undermines your ethics and values – even if you are dependent upon your paycheck?

These fears of potential retaliation, demotion, or job loss may be justified.  In a National Business Ethics survey conducted by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative in 2016, 53% of U.S. workers who reported misconduct were retaliated against!

So, what can you do when your boss asks you to act in a way that you believe is unethical?

  • Ask questions. One of the most simple ways to avoid unethical behaviors is to understand the true nature of the request.  Often times an unethical request may simply be an expedient way of solving a problem (in other words, your boss was “too busy” to consider ethical issues).  Before reacting strongly and emotionally, ask your manager to repeat the request so that you can clarify what he or she is specifically asking you to do – then paraphrase this understanding back to him or her.
  • Trust your gut. If after fully understanding what your manager is requesting and you intuitively know that the act is unethical, explain to your boss why you feel uncomfortable following the directive.
  • Focus on creating a more ethical approach to solve the problem. If “cutting corners” to expedite an activity feels unethical to you, mutually brainstorm other ways that your boss can still achieve the desired outcomes and you can feel comfortable with the desired actions.  If an initial conversation doesn’t work, then put your ideas into an email – you’ll then have a record as to why you are not complying with a request to do something that you believe is unethical.
  • Don’t tolerate being bullied into doing something unethical. If you boss insists that you perform an unethical task, he or she may use pressure, coercion, or intimidation to force you to comply.  DON’T!  Many requests that start out as unethical may ultimately lead to legal consequences.

Some Reasons for Illegal Requests

Quite frankly, there are none.

Managers who knowingly or unwittingly ask their subordinates to engage in activities that are illegal will still be held liable for the consequences – as you will be, too, since you complied with the illegal request.

The challenge is how to protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit stemming from these illegal actions.

How to Respond to Illegal Requests

The good news is that you may have legal claims against your employer if you suffer retaliation for refusing to take an illegal action at work or if you were a whistleblower who reported the illegal activity.  In addition to laws protecting whistleblowers (always check with an attorney!), there may be grounds for wrongful termination pursuant to relevant state laws.

NOTE:  Don’t assume your legal standing –
always check with an attorney experienced in employment law!

If you have been asked to take illegal action, this is a time when you MUST take a stand and refuse.  As previously mentioned, taking the illegal action even if you disagree with it is NOT an adequate defense in a lawsuit.

To protect yourself, consider the following ideas:

  • Escalate your concerns. Talk to your boss’s manager in an effort to resolve the problem.  Speak to someone in your company’s HR department – ideally a manager who has the authority to act upon this information.  Ask your company’s compliance manager for advice as to how to proceed.
  • Be prepared that your boss may retaliate against you. No, it isn’t right.  No, it isn’t ethical.  And, yes, it may be illegal.  But sadly retaliation is all too common.
  • Be prepared that your employer may do nothing in response to your questions or complaints. This is a cultural issue – and an organizational culture that supports unethical or illegal behaviors will do little to assist an employee who refuses to comply.
  • Be prepared to address coworkers’ comments. Although you should ideally keep the confidentiality of your boss’s request to engage in illegal conduct, the office grapevine can still find out.  Once again, this is a cultural issue:  you might be viewed as either a hero for refusing to act illegally or you might be viewed as a “snitch” who doesn’t fit with the corporate culture.
  • Make sure your resume is ready in case you need to find a new job. As previously mentioned, many employees are retaliated against when they fail to comply with a manager’s request – even if it is unethical or illegal.  The question is:  do you want to stay in a culture that advocates unethical or illegal behavior AND are you prepared for the legal consequences of being complicit?

An unethical boss is the bane of an ethical employee’s existence plus it can be an environmental factor that leads to the psychological, emotional, and physical űber stress of burnout.

If you’re currently employed at the company, you have some important decisions to make:  Is the unethical or illegal request a one-time issue OR is it an indication of the corporate culture?  If you stay with your employer, can you handle the emotional strain of staying in an organization whose values do not align with your own?  And, finally, is the risk of potential civil or criminal charges against you due to your complicity worth it?

Remember:  Unethical or illegal management requests can not only place you into potential legal jeopardy, but can also cause you to burn out!

To thank you for reading my blog and to help you in deciding if you should stay or leave a stressful employment situation, please check out my newly updated eCourse, Job Burnout:  When to Stay, When to Go, What to Do.  In this on-demand eCourse, you’ll discover three critical questions to help you decide.  (NOTE:  Although this is an intensive 6 module course, it is available on-demand so that you can work on it at your own pace – plus you have LIFETIME access!)

SPECIAL GIFT:  If you use discount code ANW2W15, you can save $15.00 off this course.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

A Fresh Start After a Perceived “Failure”

Failure is staying down - Mary Pickford

Let’s face it:  we’ve all failed — and often quite spectacularly.

How we define “failure” is closely related to our unmet expectations:  when our projected outcomes do not align with our current reality…when we judge and compare ourselves to others…when our negative self-talk plays in a demoralizing perpetual loop.

We all fall down — but we don’t have to STAY down!  Let’s take this moment to refuse to dwell on our perceived “failures.”

Instead, let’s consciously focus on the lessons learned so that we can move out of negativity..and into positivity, passion, meaning, and joy.

The BAD news:  Focusing on failure makes us dangerously susceptible to burnout.
The GOOD news:  We have the undeniable power to make every moment in every day a brand new start!  All we need to do is CHOOSE to start fresh.

In 2019, let’s remember to consciously breathe with gratitude for the good in our lives — and with each breath, commit to rewriting our future by changing the paradigms that shape our lives.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Nothing can stop you from letting go…and starting over

Nothing can stop you from letting go and starting over - Guy Finley

Letting go is hard.  We hold on to so many things that no longer serve us.  We stay in jobs that demoralize us.  We stay in relationships in which we no longer have anything in common.  We stay stuck on a strategy that isn’t producing the results that we desire.

Yet we continue to hang on — even more tightly than before.

The question is:  why?

  • It is emotionally challenging to let go of something that we’ve put a lot of time, sweat, and tears into.
  • Letting go of something that is no longer working makes us question our abilities, problem-solving, and decision-making:  how did something so desirable turn out so wrong?
  • We see the act of starting over as beginning anew…without anything to support us as we move forward toward an unknown future.
  • Perhaps most significantly, we refuse to let go because we’re afraid to change.

The only reason why we do not move forward is because we prevent ourselves from moving forward.  Nothing in the universe is stopping us.  Nothing.

Far too often, we stand in our own way.  We ignore the warning signs of future challenges — or we bury ourselves in the past hurts that continue to victimize us.

We also worry about what other people will think of our decision to let go and start over.  We exaggerate their influence in our lives.  We even cater to the whims and wants of people who really don’t have our best interests at heart.

In the end, we sacrifice our own purpose and the creation of the legacy of our lives — simply because we’re afraid to let go and start over.

If you are in a place in your life where you need to start anew, consider these reminders:

  • Starting over is not an indication of “failure” — it is a courageous act to move forward in creating the life that make us happy.
  • Starting over is an exciting opportunity to let go of all the situations, people, and circumstances that have prevented us from creating and realizing our unique destiny.
  • Starting over does not mean starting with “nothing” — we have the incredible advantage of insights gleaned from what didn’t work in the past and can now use that knowledge to avoid similar landmines in the future.
  • Starting over is starting fresh — so let go of the nagging, belittling, self-deprecating self-talk in order to be lighter and more agile in moving forward.

You’re never too old to start over!  Isn’t it time to get out of your own way and create success on your own terms?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Letting go of the life we planned…to have the life waiting for us

Let go of life planned to have life waiting for us - Joseph Campbell

Planning.  It’s considered to be the most important tool in order to create success.  It’s also a way to ward off “surprises” that could derail us from achieving our goals.  Without planning for the future, where would we be?

Perhaps we’d be a lot more mindful, present,…and happier.

I must admit that I am a planner by nature.  Planning is a good thing and is necessary, but it can also become a compulsion that robs us of responding quickly and authentically to the inevitable (but unexpected) opportunities and challenges that are a part of life.

And what happens if our best formulated plans…fail?  Do we respond quickly and without fear — or do we wallow in trying to figure out what went wrong, thus preventing us from moving forward?

Life is full of unanticipated serendipity — but we tend to forget this as we rigidly plan and will our futures to unfold the way that we want them to.

But maybe what we’re envisioning is not what we’re supposed to be doing.  Maybe our goals are not aligned with our purpose in life.

It is tough to let go of the past — with all its assumptions, paradigms, and expectations. But why do we cling so steadfastly to past goals and overlook the new opportunities that are beseeching us to move forward to something that may be even better?

  • Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to admit that we failed — but “failure” is nothing more than an opportunity to learn.  We learn not only what didn’t work, but what also did work and gave us joy.
  • Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid of what others will think — but nobody else is living our lives for us.  When all is said and done, our lives are the results of the decisions that we have made (both “good” and “bad”).
  • Perhaps it’s because the devil we know is less scary than the devil we don’t know — but life is a journey that requires movement in and out of different situations and relationships.
  • And perhaps it’s because we fear that we are “too old” — regardless of our chronological age.  Steadfastly continuing to put blood, sweat, and tears into something that no longer “fits” just because we think that we are “too old” to try something new just leads to resentment, depression, and burnout.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, people will change careers (not just jobs) over 7 times in their lifetimes.  Some of these changes are intentional and self-directed, while others are the results of change in the work environment or industry.  But those who succeed and enjoy their professional work are able to recognize that what they planned may no longer be feasible — or even desirable.

Letting go of expectations is an important tool in avoiding burnout.  Yes, we’ll continue to work hard and strive for excellence.  But we need to be courageous enough to admit when something is no longer working…and be willing to move on.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Every beginning from other beginning's end - Seneca

Beginnings and endings:  are they really that different?  Or are they different ways of viewing the same event?

To begin anew means giving up what we did in the past in order to begin unfettered in creating a new future.  A fresh beginning that allows us to to move freely forward requires accepting that the events in the past have concluded.

Everything has a beginning…and everything has an end.  But letting go of the past can be a monumental task.

While past events may have laid the groundwork  for our steps into the future, the very nature of beginning marks the end of something else.

Too often we try to move forward while steadfastly clinging to the past.  But this is like driving a car by only looking in the rear view mirror — then wondering why we were unprepared for the roadblock in front of us.

Life has a great internal balance.  Everything that happens occurs for a reason.  And every beginning will eventually end in order to allow a new beginning to emerge.

Are you willing to accept what has ended in order to move forward?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

Knowing Is Not Enough

Burnout Bundle_ Lesson 8 - Knowing is not enough

On some level, we all know what we need to do in order to succeed.  We’ve taken the courses, attended the lectures, listened to the podcasts…but somehow we tend to stay “stuck.”

Creating the necessary changes in our lives requires the decision to make those changes.  That means pushing down our fears and deciding that we will implement what we’ve learned — and learn from what we’ve implemented.

And therein lies the rub:  we know what we need to do…but we don’t always apply what we’ve learned.

Perhaps it is the fear of failure — or even the fear of success.

Perhaps it is that we have a high-level understanding of what to do — but lack the specific tactical steps to transform that knowledge into action.

Success in life comes down to the willingness to take action.

But today’s hyperactive, fast-paced, 24/7 world makes demands on our time and thwarts our best efforts to do what we know needs to be done.

So, we need to develop achievable plans with “wiggle room” embedded within them.  In this way, we avoid the snowball effect of too aggressive planning that leads to a cavalcade of missed deadlines.

We need to develop habits that can carry us through when our willpower might be lacking.

We need to get enough sleep and avoid burnout so that we can not only do what needs to be done, but also enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

And we need to care enough about ourselves to do not only what will make us happy, but also create success on our own terms.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

Why We Keep Asking Questions

Questions we keep asking - Freda Adler

Are we too focused on finding all the answers?

As a researcher, I know that this is a controversial thought to express — but (as every researcher knows) for every question that is answered, several more appear.

Isn’t this also true in our own lives?  We think we know all the answers…but then life throws us a curve ball.  When this happens, we either have to re-learn what we forgot — or prepare ourselves to learn something totally new.

Life is all about asking the questions.  Not necessarily the questions that other people tell us to ask, but the questions that we feel on a deep level will help us develop into the person that we want to be.

There seems to be an insatiable need for people to find out “how to do it”:  how to create a business, how to build positive relationships, how to be a great parent, how to achieve success in our jobs.  We naively think that if we just get the “right” answer, we will be happy.

But life doesn’t work that way.

No two people will be faced with the exact same questions in their lives.  Nor will we be forced to confront the same obstacles.  While there will be trends that span a wide range of people and personalities, each of us have to find the answers to the fundamental questions that are critical in our own lives.

The quality of our lives is directly related
to the quality of our questions.  

If we ask, “Why does this always happen to me?” — our question belies a feeling of being a victim.

If we instead ask, “What can I do to improve this situation right now?” — our question provides direction to our conscious brain and subconscious mind to find a solution.

Every question has a subtext, an assumption that provides the foundation and meaning behind that question.  No matter how hard we try, we will probably never be able to answer the question, “Why did he or she do that to me?!” — because we can never truly know everything that someone has gone through in their lives.

Images can be deceiving.

The questions that we are asking right now reveal our emotional assumptions about the current state of our lives.  Because life is constantly changing, so are our questions.

So what burning questions do you need to answer?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com