Career columnist “Ask Annie” gives solid advice on Intelligent Disobedience to a recent college grad on a slippery slope of obedience that could lead to ruining his career.
Dear Annie: I’m hoping you or your readers can help me out of a dilemma. I’m in my first full-time job after college—I just started in July—and at first I was really excited about working here. Lately, though, it’s become a nightmare. It turns out I report to someone who has been misrepresenting certain important financial information, both to clients and to people higher up in the company, for quite some time. He expects me to fall in line and go along, signing off on reports that I know contain inflated figures. What he’s been doing is obviously unethical, and probably illegal too.
He claims that “everybody does it,” but I doubt that. Is there any way to refuse to cooperate without making him mad or getting fired? I’m low enough on the totem pole to be totally replaceable but, apart from this one thing, I’d like to keep working here. Help! — Losing Sleep in L.A.
Dear Losing Sleep: Yikes. One thing is clear. No matter how “low on the totem pole” you are, you are going to have to speak up. Luckily, there are ways to do this and still keep your job…
… “Legally, you’re still guilty if you break the law, even if you objected at the time,” says Ira Chaleff, author of a fascinating book called Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong. Next to prison time, having to find a different job looks like a piece of cake, Chaleff adds. “There are a lot worse things than being fired or quitting.”
True. But since you’re hoping to stay put, he has three suggestions for you:
- Ask for clarification…(expanded in the full article)
- Focus the discussion on your boss’s best interests…(expanded in the full article)
- Suggest a better alternative…(expanded in the full article)
“There are lots of ethical dilemmas in the workplace, and not all of them are big or dramatic,” Chaleff observes. “And the higher up you go, the bigger the stakes.” Good luck.
Pressured to do something shady at work? How to push back
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