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

Why I STOPPED Over-Promising During the Holidays

Santa running

We all have expectations about the holidays…and often over-extend ourselves trying to meet them!  The result is holiday stress.

“Losers make promises they often break. Winners make commitments they always keep.” This quote by Denis Waitley, a well respected success coach and author, is not about winning and losing: it’s about understanding our capabilities, time commitments, and resources so that we CAN keep the commitments that we’ve made.

Trust and promises go hand-in-hand.

We’ve all had promises broken by our bosses, coworkers, colleagues, family, friends…and ourselves. While there may have been some very good reasons why we couldn’t follow through on what we promised to do, I sometimes wonder whether it’s really about two different things:

  • We focus too much on the reasons behind the broken promise, rather than the effects that our broken promises have on others.
  • We focus too much on making others happy by committing to something that we know we won’t be able to do.

Broken promises create shifts in relationships. It can destroy the level of trust that took years to build. It may increase our level of caution in future dealings with not only the person who broke their promise to us, but even extend to other people as well.

Truth is essential for building trust.

How to Determine If a Promise You Make Is a Promise That You Can Keep

Exercise care when making promises — particularly to family members and loved ones. Don’t over-promise!

If there is any doubt about your ability to deliver, then state these concerns directly and initially. In this way, the person who is relying on you to “make good” on your promise is forewarned and can decide whether or not to depend on you to take these actions.

Recognize that stuff does happen. It’s critical to notify the person who is depending upon you immediately if something unexpected threatens to undermine your ability to keep your promise.

Finally, be realistic about what you have the time and energy to achieve. You might want to prepare the entire holiday dinner — but that shouldn’t mean that you “forget” to sleep on the days before the meal! Enlist others to help you AND commit to enjoying the process with them.

The meal, the decorations, and the gifts may seem to be the “traditions” of your holiday — but it is really the relationships with the people whom you love that create the cherished moments.

Need help de-stressing the holidays?
Enroll in my FREE on-demand eCourse,
Destressing the Holidays:  How to Move From Bah Hum Bug to HoHoHo.  You’ll learn over 50 ways to reduce holiday stress at home AND at work.
Click here for immediate, on-demand, mobile-friendly access!  

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

5 Ways to Grow Your Network

We’ve all been told to “network” in order to grow our careers — but how do you FIND people to include in your network?  In this 9-minute video, I share 5 easy ways for you to consistently grow your network — including the benefits that you will receive from doing so!

Remember!  Your “network” is NOT just a group of people whom you’ve met.  A network is a community of people who share:

  • What they know
  • Who they know
  • How they can help

Your network community is a great place to give and receive the support to help each other succeed.

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

What Networking Is…and Isn’t (VIDEO)

Networking is all about creating connections — BUT your connections don’t create a viable network unless there is a mutual commitment to helping each other achieve their goals.

The many misconceptions about networking serve to derail attempts to grow and sustain a network.  In this 12-minute video, I’ll dive into common networking mistakes and provide tips on how to avoid them — plus you’ll learn my new definition of what it means to network either face-to-face or online.

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

The Top 5 Listening Mistakes (What to Do Instead)

Listening - 2 Men ask question

It’s a proven fact:  listening is more than just the physical act of hearing.  So why do we sometimes “zone out” during conversations?  Even though we may be able to hear what is being said, it’s only through aggressive listening that we can really understand what is being said — on both denotative (definitions) and connotative (emotional) levels.

Listening requires concentrated effort.  It requires silencing our “monkey minds” that constantly flit between different visual, auditory, and sensory stimulation.  It requires being present in the moment — and quit worrying about the past or the future.

Maybe it’s our fast-paced world or maybe it’s these constant distractions that pummel us from every direction, but the art of listening has fallen to the wayside.

But without aggressive listening, mistakes are made.  Feelings are hurt.  Important information is overlooked.  And the levels of trust and respect between the communicating partners can be forever damaged.

So, how do you learn how to become an aggressive listener?

To start, here are what I consider to be the Top 5 irritating listening habits — plus some tips on how to overcome them.

  • Irritating Listening Habit #1 Interrupting the speaker.  No one likes to be interrupted!  Interruptions are often interpreted as signs that you are belittling the importance of what the speaker is saying.  Even though you might think that you know what the person is going to say next, take a breath and wait for them to pause before interjecting your thoughts.  And consider asking a question instead of judging what they have been saying!
  • Irritating Listening Habit #2:  Showing interest in something else.  This is a sure sign to the speaker that you aren’t interested in the conversation.  While some unexpected distractions can divert your attention (such as an alarm bell going off), showing interest in something other than the speaker is disrespectful.  Instead focus on understanding the nuances of what the speaker is saying:  how do they really feel about what they are saying?  Are they happy, sad, excited, fearful?  By understanding the emotions underlying their words (the connotative meaning), you can get much more insight into the true meaning and importance of what they are saying.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #3:  Saying “yeah, but…”  While it is not expected that you will necessarily agree with everything that the speaker is saying, responding (or interrupting) with “yeah, but…” indicates that you made your mind up about the topic — probably before you even listened to the speaker.  In other words, your role in the two-way conversation was focused on crafting your own response rather than trying to understand the speaker’s position.  Instead try agreeing (the “yeah” in the “yeah, but”) then following with a separate question focused on gaining clarification.  The key is to come from a place of interest, rather than confrontation or judgment.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #4:  Not responding to the speaker’s requests.  In other words, responding with a “huh” instead of a direct reply.  While it’s true that fatigue can compromise our ability to aggressively listen, most of the time it’s that the listener was not paying attention by focusing on something outside the conversation.  This lack of response can also happen when a speaker stops talking…but the listener doesn’t contribute to the continuation of the conversation.  It’s those awkward pauses.  If you find your mind drifting away from the conversation, try taking a break or adding some type of physical activity (not fidgeting!).  A brief coffee break or suggesting that you take a walk while you’re talking can often bring your focus back to the conversation.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #5:  Not looking at the speaker.  Although hearing might only require functioning ears, aggressive listening requires both auditory and visual cues.  Mehrabian’s 55-38-7 rule advises that 55% of the meaning that we receive during communication is the result of body language (visual cues), 38% from the tone of voice (auditory cues), and only 7% from the actual words spoken.  Be sure to observe the speaker’s movements and body language in order to fully comprehend what they are trying to communicate — don’t just rely on your ears for understanding!

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

 

 

Developing Charisma: Why It’s a Skill That Can Be Learned

Charisma in front of crowd

What IS charisma?  Is it an innate personality trait – or is it a skill that can be learned?  Does charisma require you to be an extrovert – or can “shy” people be charismatic, too?  Finally, is it really important in business today?

Although charisma can be difficult to define, this definition takes charisma out of the realm of personality traits:

Charisma is the ability to inspire and motivate people
to do MORE than they would normally do
DESPITE obstacles and personal sacrifice. 

Charisma, therefore, is more than simply motivating someone to do something that they would have done without your influence.

Charisma brings others out of their shells and builds their self-confidence.

Charisma addresses the head and the heart of other people so that they will perceive regardless of the obstacles they may face or the personal sacrifices that may be demanded of them.

The 8 Characteristics of Charismatic Leaders

In the modern workplace of flattened organizational hierarchies, cross-functional leadership with or without a formal title has become an important criteria for an organization to survive.  While it cannot be denied that some people may have a more innate talent to be charismatic, charisma can be learned.

Surprised that something as ineffable as “charisma” can be a learned skill?  Once you understand the 8 characteristics that define charismatic leaders, you’ll be better able to inspire others to commit wholeheartedly to your vision.

  1. Appeal to BOTH the heart and the mind.  One reason why leaders are often not perceived as being charismatic occurs when they focus exclusively on charts, graphs, and metrics.  While important, such quantitative items do not inspire creativity in others.  Story-telling has become a popular tool to entwine the quantitative outcomes with more esoteric and heartfelt reasons to achieve those outcomes.
  2. Have passion for the work. A leader will never be charismatic if they are lackadaisical about what they do and why they are doing it.  Passion does not necessarily mean emotional fits or grand verbosity; passion can also be equated with focus and commitment to an outcome as well as its overall importance.
  3. Create an atmosphere of change. Charismatic leaders rarely maintain the status quo.  They are visionaries who can see opportunities (often before others) and then have the courage to take the necessary actions to move forward toward their achievement.  This requires being comfortable with change – but remember that change does NOT have to be chaos.
  4. Communicate in a clear, compelling way. Once again, charismatic leaders inspire others by appealing to both their hearts and minds.  This requires the ability to describe complex ideas or goals in a way that is simple but still addresses the curiosity and creativity of others.  There’s nothing worse than a leader who appeals to the hearts of followers through a powerful vision – but then leaves them without the means or strategy to attain it.
  5. Have abiding faith in the vision. Closely aligned with passion, charismatic leaders will go over, under, or through obstacles in order to achieve their goals.  Obstacles are viewed as bumps in the road rather than derailing road blocks.  This level of certainty and confidence inspires others to also move outside their comfort zones and take risks.
  6. May be unconventional. Although not necessary, charismatic leaders usually have some type of mannerism or communication style that separates them from others.  While not absolutely essential, being somewhat unconventional is often equated with creative, outside the box thinking.  It doesn’t require charisma to have others do what they’ve always been doing.
  7. Foster trust by a willingness to incur personal risk. Charismatic leaders walk the talk.  In other words, they would never expect more from their followers than what they demand of themselves.  By confidently taking such risks, it inspires others to be a little more daring, too.
  8. Influence from personal power (not position power). Being promoted to the C-suite will not automatically create charisma in a leader.  In fact, a reliance on position power (or power that is attached to the job rather than the individual) is one of the best ways to lose charisma.  Personal power arises from being present in interactions with others and from confidently expressing and brainstorming ideas.  It’s more than just being liked by others:  it’s being viewed by others as someone whom they can trust.

So, do you still think that charisma is an innate personality trait – or are you now a little more open to the idea that charisma can be learned?  Just remember:  although inherently neutral, charisma is best used for noble and positive reasons – NOT as a method to sway people down nefarious routes.  (Think of Hitler’s passionate and charismatic speeches.)

But don’t be afraid of your own charisma in influencing others!  And remember that charismatic leaders are never “cookie cutter” clones.  Be brave in bringing your own exuberant uniqueness to the job!

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