Most people who get caught at work in an unethical action or a violation of a policy, rule or procedure, never thought they would be reported, complained about or found out. They gamble with their reputations, jobs, professional status, income and families because, even though they know the risks, they think they will be the one person who doesn’t get caught. When the inevitable happens they apologize, offer to make amends and often cry over the bad results of their decisions and actions. You’ve seen it or heard about it far too many times.
I think most people who accept responsibility for their actions sincerely do regret the poor decisions that led to the bad results. They probably all wish they could turn back time and get a do-over. One person told me on the day of his demotion, which was also the day his wife filed for divorce about a work situation, “I worried about it the first few times I did it, then I guess I just thought I had it figured out so no one would ever know. I’d give everything I possess to get the chance to do it over.”
There are no do overs, there is only don’t do.
One reason I feel so strongly about supervisory intervention is because I think we could save our organizations from a lot of problems and embarrassment and save employees from themselves if we intervene before the harm or at the very first indicator of a problem.
All it requires is that supervisors and managers monitor work behavior and performance appropriately for the job and talk to employees about potential problems as well as observable problems. Supervisors and managers often need to be the stop sign.
What is going to happen when you are found out?
Ultimately the best intervention is that which is done by our personal ethical and moral characters and our fears of what will happen if we are caught. That latter is just as valid as the former and it sometimes has a much stronger effect on our decisions!
Any time you consider doing something you know isn’t quite right or is blatantly wrong, picture being confronted about it down the line when your involvement is known. Think about the worse case scenario of what could happen to your job, your family, your income, your future and your reputation. Don’t think if you are found out, think, when you are found out. Then, ask yourself if what you’re considering doing is worth that result. Think about how you will feel when you wish you could have a do-over. Then, make the right decision right then.
If you’re doing something now that could spell disaster if it were known, stop it. If you need help to conquer an addiction, a psychological problem or a destructive habit, get that help right away. Get legal advice if you need it. Stay away from temptation from now on and resist it when you feel it. You know that is what you would say to others, so take the advice yourself.
The bottom line: You’re living in a fool’s paradise if you think no one knows or will never find out about the secret thing you’ve been doing or that they don’t care about the problem behavior or performance you’ve been showing.
*If you’ve been doing something wrong that involves someone else, they probably have talked about it already or they will when you’re not friends anymore or if they start feeling guilty.
*If it involves company resources, someone is probably tracking it or will be.
*If it involves technology, someone probably has the evidence.
*If your actions have made work life unpleasant for others, they’re already documenting it and will complain at some point if you continue.
*If you’re cutting corners on your time, attendance or work, someone is probably keeping a record.
*If you have active enemies, they are watching for something to report.
*Even if what you are doing is not a crime or a huge ethical violation or severe problem, remember that the truth probably will come out at some point–maybe at the worst possible time when you will wish you didn’t have to deal with it.
Read the news of the latest scandal, crime, shameful misdeeds or organizational shake-ups and realize none of those people thought they would be caught or that anyone would complain. Think about the people who have been fired from your work or who were demoted or lost their influence and reputations. They didn’t think they’d be found out or reported either. Let those events remind you of what can happen, often to otherwise decent people–like you.
You should feel afraid of what might happen and I hope you are–afraid enough to stop it.