How to stop unethical behaviour in the workplace

unethical behaviour in the workplace
Worse things than this can happen when many people do the wrong thing

Sometimes the news runs a surprising story of corruption and mismanagement that makes me to wonder how some companies are even in business. What really interests me is how these things happen. Some of the situations are so complicated, it must be difficult to carry out these crimes single-handed.

This article about a corrupt IT Manager says that:

He used his position at TAFE to register his front company as a pre-qualified supplier on the Department of Education’s finance system. Then had members of his staff issue work orders to the business that he would approve himself.

Then there was this article about purchasing issues at a government department, which reads:

 …one officer, who was only authorised to spend up to $100,000 and instead authorised expenditure worth more than $40 million, has since left the department.

“In this instance an officer was able to purchase beyond [their] authorised limits and clearly was incompetent in that role.”

The interesting thing for me is that in any company of a significant size, the need to work within teams means that it is pretty hard for a single person to show corrupt behaviour without somebody else at least having a chance to spot it.

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Unethical behaviour in the workplace is usually not by a single person

Unethical behaviour in the workplace doesn’t happen because of just one person. Sure, one person starts it, but then to be able to keep getting away with it requires other people to either be in on the act or be turning a blind eye.

Stop unethical behaviour in the workplace, by refusing to be part of the problem

As a leader, you have a responsibility to protect your team and the company from these sorts of issues.

You never have ultimate control over what your team chooses to do. There is nothing to stop one of your team murdering a colleague unexpectedly. That’s not necessarily your fault. Unless you ignored the warning signs.

In your leadership role, you can’t control:

  • What your boss tells you to do. If your boss tells you to do something unethical, there is nothing you can do about that. But you don’t have to do what your boss says, if it’s wrong.
  • What others decide to do with what you’ve told them. If you’ve asked a team member to do something and they have not followed your instructions, that’s largely out of your control. After all, they aren’t a puppet where you get to pull the strings.

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There are things that you can (and should) control:

  • What you tell others. You need to tell your team what they should be doing, and what they shouldn’t. You have complete control of what comes out of your mouth. Make sure you’re saying the right things so that people know where you stand. Remember that you are a role model.
  • How you act. Ever heard the statement Do as I say, not as I do” from a manager? If you are going to act in a certain way, then people around you will take that lead, even if you say otherwise. Make sure your words match your actions, otherwise people will follow your lead and do the wrong thing.
  • Pushing back on people. As a leader, it is your responsibility to push back on people when they ask you to show unethical behaviour in the workplace. It’s not easy, but you just might be the last point of resistance against something really bad happening in your team.
  • Your personal situation. Your own financial position and relationships outside of your work are your responsibility. They can be of great benefit to how you behave with your team. Having to afford that expensive car could be the difference between ignoring unethical behaviour in the workplace or saying “I quit”. You need to get yourself into a position where you don’t have to go along with unethical behaviour in the workplace. This includes keeping your skills and qualifications current, your personal finances healthy and your lifestyle in check. So when something bad is about to happen, you can say “I’m not going to be part of this”.

Unethical behaviour in the workplace starts small

You might be thinking that these issues don’t come along very often. It isn’t every day that the mafia contacts you with a shady deal. But these situations happen on a smaller scale too. For example, you might:

  • Give a good review to one of your suppliers because someone in your team knows the owner
  • Lie about the status of a project to avoid anyone seeing the issues.

It is a slippery slope.

Unethical behaviour in the workplace happens when many people’s actions combine to cause a bad outcome. Not everybody involved is likely to be corrupt, but you can be sure that there are many instances where people do things they know are wrong because they feel like they have no other option.

Give yourself options and take control of what you can. What you tell others, how you act, when you push back and how you live – that’s all up to you. You can play a part in stopping unethical behaviour in the workplace.

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