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Business ethics and workplace whistle-blowers

I looked anxiously at my computer clock. 3:45 p.m. The report was due promptly at 4 p.m. “Just send it in as-is,” a peer said in exasperation. “Everyone uses creative math for these reports anyway.” But I hadn’t, and I never thought I would. Until that afternoon, that is. Now I had a dilemma that required me to at least consider it. My manager had sent my program report back to me with some revisions; revisions that disguised unfavorable numbers as something else. To reject those revisions and submit my version to be presented to leadership would be tantamount to treason. I would embarrass my manager, possibly lose program funding and potentially find myself out of a job. I was looking temptation squarely in the face. I felt like success and longevity at my job was on one side of the scale and my integrity and peace of mind as a Christian was on the other. One decision would decide which carried the most weight in my life.

The code: concept or compliance
Once every year, corporations all over the world take time (and money) to re-educate their employees about the company’s ethics, policies and procedures. Have you ever wondered why? Believe it or not, it’s more about money than ethics. In 2014 the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) published a Global Fraud Study (acfe.com/rttn/docs/2014-report-to-nations.pdf) which reported that an average company loses a median of 5 percent of revenues each year due to fraud. On a global level, this translates to losses of approximately $3.7 trillion. And that’s just looking at one type of workplace misconduct!The document used by companies to compile and disseminate their ethics policies is often called a code of conduct. The code usually covers a gambit  of topics, from accepting gifts from clients to boundaries with coworkers. The objectives are to align all employees with the company’s conduct standards and to document each person's willingness to comply with those standards (that’s why we have to sign it every year). The desired result is protection for the company, including its reputation, employees, clients, revenues and its future.

While the vast majority of employees and managers agree with the concept of the code, compliance tends to be a different story. For many, the code is for putting principles on paper, not into practice. Justifications for non-compliance can vary, but there is usually one common thread; people simply don’t believe they can be successful without breaking the code . . . at least once in a while. Whether it’s getting “creative” with numbers or bribing clients, the driving force is often a belief that the demands of the job can’t be met within the confines of the code.

As Christian professionals, how do we resist a code-breaking culture at work and keep our integrity intact? Here are few thoughts to consider.

Remember your true code of conduct
As faithful professionals, our integrity doesn’t begin with our company’s ethics policies. We answer to the highest code from which other codes get their foundation. For example, God commands us to do what we have committed to do (Matt. 5:33), submit to the authority of our employers (Rom. 13:1-4), treat others the way we want to be treated (Matt. 7:12) and don’t steal or lie (Lev. 19:11). These four scriptures alone sum up most conduct policies. So the next time you sign your annual code of conduct agreement, remember it’s not just your manager who will be holding you accountable.

Nothing is hidden . . . for long
It is absolutely foolish to think we can circumvent conduct policies and get away with it forever. It will eventually come out. Why? One word: omniscience. God knows everything. And as a loving, all-knowing God, he will expose everything we try to hide for the sake of saving us from ourselves. For those who have fallen into unethical practices, a word of advice: It’s always better to reveal than to be exposed. Confession, in addition to being biblical, places us in control of telling our own story instead of having it told for us. As Proverbs 28:13 instructs, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” We should be our own whistle-blowers. It’s a faithful practice for relieving the weight of guilt and shame. It also often leads to a surprising outpouring of mercy and understanding from peers and even managers.

To tell or not to tell
This is a tricky one. It’s one thing to be your own whistle-blower but what about telling on others? What about telling on your manager? Most codes of conduct I have seen include a clause about reporting the unethical behavior of others. If we signed it, God expects us to do it. I know this may seem like career suicide in some cases, and the fear of retaliation is legitimate. But it is important to reminded of who has been holding the knit of time and space together since the beginning of the world. Surely he can keep our careers together too without our “help.”

This doesn’t mean we have to be the ethics police at work. God expects us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11). But if God has placed us in a position where the wrongdoing is right in front of us, it’s because he expects us to do something about it.

Success that costs too much
It makes sense that we want to succeed. We want to achieve. We want to excel. But at what cost? Our integrity? Our peace of mind? Our souls? Mark 8:36 asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” In the by-any-means-necessary culture of the business world, it’s critical that we keep things in this proper perspective. Short of medical or public safety professions, most of our careers are not a matter of life and death. So why would we risk our clear conscience before God and man for short cuts to get ahead at the job? Bonuses and promotions come and go, but our souls will live forever. Let’s make sure they’re being properly managed. 

 

Workplace Misconduct
In a 2013 Canadian business ethics study by IPSOS, an independent market research company, researchers discovered that 42 percent of employed Canadians witnessed some form of misconduct in the workplace but only 58 percent of those witnesses reported it. Learn more about the most common forms of workplace misconduct revealed in the study at by www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=6187.

  • Natasha M. Gboleeweefaa is a professional writer and speaker with over 10 years of management experience in healthcare, banking and IT, as well as the non-profit sector. She is a founding member of Vision Church in Raleigh, N.C. Natasha serves the community as a biblical money mentor along with her husband Ray. She also writes a weekly blog titled SyncUP (penpadpurpose.com) featuring an ongoing series that addresses real-life challenges Christian professionals face.

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