Whistle-blowers have been big news lately — from Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Pfc. Bradley Manning, to Edward J. Snowden. Yet, for most people, the question of whether to expose unethical or illegal activities at work doesn’t make headlines or involve state secrets.
But that doesn’t make the problem less of a quandary. The question of when to remain quiet and when to speak out — and how to do it — can be extraordinarily difficult no matter what the situation.
And while many think of ethics violations as confined to obviously illegal acts, like financial fraud or safety violations, the line often can be much blurrier and, therefore, more difficult to navigate.
According to the Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit research organization, the No. 1 misconduct observed — by a third of 4,800 respondents — was misuse of company time. That was closely followed by abusive behavior and lying to employees.
The findings were published in the organization’s 2011 National Business Ethics Survey, which interviewed, on the phone or online, employees in the commercial sector who were employed at least 20 hours a week.