February 25, 2008
A 2007 National Business Survey conducted by the Ethics Resource Center that interviewed approximately 2,000 employees in both private and public companies revealed that 56 % of employees surveyed had personally observed violations of company ethics standards, policy and even the law. Yet 42 % of those who witnessed the misconduct did not report it. Many believed that the reporting would not bring corrective action.
Why is it so difficult to report wrongdoing? Fear of both retaliation from management and fear of being perceived as a "snitch" by colleagues is a major factor. In criminal case, few people agree to be a witness for the prosecution unless they have committed a crime themselves and hope for leniency in exchange for their testimony.
When we witness wrongdoing it might be helpful to remember that we are not asked to pass judgment on the person or the action, just to report the facts.
We should also remember that the facts that we are made aware of, however insignificant they may seem to be, could be indicative of a much great problem that, if unresolved, could lead to very serious consequences. We can safely assume that if there had been earlier reporting of wrongdoings at Enron and Arthur Anderson, the demise of both companies could have been avoided. By remaining silent we could share some responsibility in those consequences.
It might also be helpful to consider that by not reporting wrongdoing we are withholding information that does not belong to us and is not ours to keep. It belongs to those in authority and those responsible for the management of the company and the wellbeing of its employees.
Reporting wrongdoing does require moral courage because of the perceived risks involved. Rielle Miller of the Ethics Resource Center in her article "Moral Courage: Definition and Development lists five components that form moral courage. They are:
1. Presence and recognition of a moral situation,
2. Moral choice,
But as Arthur Koestler once said:
"Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears."