Sunday, September 20, 2020

If a coworker shirks responsibility, do I report it?

If a co-worker isn't doing his or her job, whose responsibility is it to set matters straight? A reader from Northern California whom we're calling Wendy wrote recently about a new co-worker who seems to be fabricating her reported work hours. 

According to Wendy, the co-worker has "left for lunch a half hour before she said she would, stayed way longer than she said she would and then disappeared for an hour in the afternoon without letting anyone know she'd be gone," writes Wendy. The co-worker has only been on the job for about three months.

Many people have found themselves in work situations where they feel like a co-worker isn't pulling his or her weight. Sometimes it's merely a matter of perception where co-workers really have no idea exactly how much work a colleague is doing, but are convinced it couldn't possibly be as much as they themselves are doing.

I'm reminded of the time I was working a summer job while in college and complained to a co-worker how much work had been dumped on me to stock the shelves of a couple of stores in the historical restoration town in which we worked. "We're all busy," my co-worker, who held her job year-round to support her family, responded. She was right. It's often easier to pass judgment on others when we don't really know the full circumstances, but that doesn't make it right.

However, Wendy's case seems clear. Wendy might not know why her co-worker is misrepresenting her hours or staging afternoon disappearances, but she knows it is having an effect on her and others being able to get their own jobs done.

"It's difficult because we rely on each other to answer the door when one of us is out, so not knowing when she is going to be out is an inconvenience," writes Wendy, adding, "not to mention that I believe she was on company time when these absences occurred."

Now Wendy is struggling with whether or not to report her co-worker's absences to their supervisor.

"I don't want to be a tattle-tale, but I have a tough time working with someone who is not there when she says she will be, and also with someone who may be cheating the company by not clocking out when she's off campus," writes Wendy.

My initial response is that it's odd that Wendy's supervisor has not noticed the co-worker's absences. Shouldn't that be a fundamental responsibility of supervising? But Wendy points out that the co-worker seems to time her absences for when the supervisor is not around.

Since the co-worker's actions are directly affecting Wendy's ability to do her own job, I believe if a conversation directly with the co-worker proves ineffective, the right thing is for her to then inform the supervisor. She can start by asking if the supervisor has ideas on how to best monitor who is going to be minding the door since she's found it challenging not knowing when her co-worker is going to be around.

If Wendy doesn't speak to her supervisor, she runs the risk of being held accountable for something not getting done because she was covering for a wayward colleague. But she also runs the risk of turning a blind eye to behavior she is convinced is dishonest, which can have lasting consequences for Wendy if it causes her superior to question her judgment. Ideally, the supervisor can work to set things right before the co-worker's behavior becomes the norm. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Can I un-tell a lie on my resume?

Often, it's not the original lie we tell that presents the most problems for us, but rather the multiple lies we tell to support the first one. The work it takes to cover ourselves from getting caught can be consuming.

A long-time reader of the column whom we're calling Curtis finds himself struggling with a fabrication he made on his resume about five years ago to enhance his chances of landing his first job. "I falsified experience on my resume to qualify for my first job," he writes.

Since the job he was applying for required two years of experience and he only had one, Curtis falsified his work experience to make it look like he had a year's more experience than he did. He was interviewed by his prospective employer who offered him the job which he gladly accepted.

After two years on the job, however, the dishonesty plagued him, so he left the position to accept a different job. "I resolved to be honest going forward," Curtis writes, so he had applied for the new job without including any made up work experience on his resume.

For the past three years, he's been doing well on the new job, but recently he finds himself "extremely plagued" by working at a job where he is "profiting from" his earlier dishonesty. "I'm bothered on a daily basis and I feel terrible that I made up the experience and have made an effort to be honest in all aspects of my life."

Curtis indicates he plans to make amends "in other ways" including going back to school and starting over in his career or emailing his managers at his former job to apologize for his dishonesty. "I have even completely eliminated the first role from my resume," he writes, so instead of saying he has five years of experience, he says he has three. He sees this as "a bid to make up for my dishonesty."

Mentors in whom Curtis has confided urge him to accept that he was wrong to lie on his resume, but have implored him to move on since he applied honestly for his current job. Nevertheless, he still "feels a troubled conscience."

"How can I resolve this guilt?" he asks. "What advice would you give to move on?"

I'm not sure it's possible to resolve such guilt rather than to learn to accept it and to learn from it going forward. But to accept that guilt, Curtis needs to make sure he doesn't inadvertently compile the dishonesty by trying to pretend it never happened. Indicating on his resume that he's only worked three years when he's actually worked five doesn't erase that those original two years happened, no matter how he got the job.

It's up to Curtis whether or not to contact the managers at that first job to let them know what he did. But he should recognize that doing that won't change the fact that it happened.

His mentors seem to have given Curtis sound advice. Accept that the dishonesty was wrong, commit to avoiding it in the future, do good work, and move on. We cannot undo what's already been done, but once we recognize that what we did was wrong, we can do our best to commit to trying to do the right thing. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Should I apply for pandemic relief even if I don't need it?

I have many thoughtful readers who regularly strive to do the right thing. Several of them have found it challenging during the coronavirus pandemic to decide whether or not it is appropriate to avail themselves of opportunities to save money or improve their financial condition when they know they are not facing quite as difficult a time as the many people who find themselves unemployed or otherwise financially challenged. 

M.L., a reader from Northern California, writes that she is in her mid-70s, retired, and lives comfortably on a monthly fixed income. In retirement, M.L. worked as a part-time teacher several hours a week. She didn't depend on the extra $300 per week she earned, but when the shutdown occurred back in March, she struggled with whether or not to apply for the new unemployment benefits that became available through the end of July.

"Clearly I am not in the state of need that many laid off workers are in and that the new law was passed to address," she writes. "When I told my sister that I might apply for the benefit, she asserted that it would be wrong to do so because the law was not meant for people in my less-than-destitute condition."

M.L. wrestled with the ethics of applying for the unemployment benefit, half of which she indicated she would donate to charities helping those more in need than she is.

Several hundred miles west in Columbus, Ohio, P.A., another longtime reader, has noticed online posts from friends who have worked with their mortgage and credit card companies to get three months free of payments, or no interest accrual, or waived fees. P.A. writes that she's happy companies are helping people during this time.

But she points out that she and her husband have been lucky and each has kept their job. "Would it be unethical for us to take advantage of these deals given that we can still pay our bills?" she asks. She thinks it would probably be wrong to do it. "It would feel like I am taking advantage of the situation and the companies."

Both M.L. and P.A. are struggling with the same central question: Should they try to improve their finances by taking advantage of offers that seem to be intended to ease the burden of others who have not fared as well during the pandemic?

If any of the programs M.L. or P.A. might apply to are specifically set up for those who meet a specific income or asset threshold and they don't meet those requirements, then obviously they should not try to get a little something for themselves.

But even during non-pandemic times, it always makes sense to manage your personal finances as wisely as possible. If you can refinance a mortgage for a much better interest rate, for example, it always makes sense to explore such possibilities. If M.L. or P.A. meet the eligibility requirements of programs being offered during the pandemic and they want to apply then they should apply.

The right thing, of course, would be for those companies or agencies offering special funds or arrangements to make clear who is and who is not eligible and implement barriers to keep the ineligible from taking advantage. If the goal is to address the needs of those most affected by the pandemic, then the program should be clearly designed to do so. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

If someone shows us who they are, believe them, don't vote for them

Embellished military career. Allegedly dodged the draft. Misplaced ballot box. Falsified voter names. Abused Congressional staffers. Commitment to doing as little policy work as possible out of fear of alienating one side or another. Condescending and dismissive toward women. Clear and consistent racist behavior.

While each of these might sound like a laundry list of just how polarized and broken politics and politicians in the United States have become, none of these are new.

I am almost finished re-reading Robert A. Caro's four-volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Caro's deftness at capturing behind-the-scenes episodes throughout Johnson's life continues to be one of the best examples of reporting and writing. While the books begin with Johnson's childhood, the later volumes focus on his role as a U.S. Representative from Texas' 10th district from 1937 to 1949, as U.S. Senator from 1948 to 1961, and as 37th President of the United States starting in 1963, upon the assassination of his predecessor, John Kennedy.

I bring up the notion that abysmal behavior in politics is nothing new now because the temptation to dismiss any current instances as just par for the course might exist. You know, that's just politics and how the game is played. Such a temptation should be fought.

If we had given over to accepting past injustices because they've always been with us, then it's likely I would have been dismissed out of hand for several jobs because of my religion or my niece might have faced insurmountable obstacles to voting because of her race; or several other nieces would not have been permitted to serve in the military if their sexual orientation had become known.

Holding politicians accountable for unjust, immoral, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and racist behavior should be part of our responsibility as citizens and voters. This goes for politicians of any political affiliation. Johnson was a Democrat. Nixon was a Republican. Each engaged in behavior that certainly doesn't represent the best of us. You can certainly add to the list with your own examples, both past and present.

Granted, we are all flawed. It is a ridiculous assumption that we could ever find candidates who have not made a mistake or two along the way. But most of us can discern, for example, the difference between a mistake and a worldview that governs your behavior. The latter should be disqualifying.

If we have evidence that candidates running for office, at any level, have engaged in reprehensible behavior, it seems a low bar to cross them off our list of people for whom to vote.

In his most recent book, Working, Robert A. Caro includes a chapter on how he got people to be candid with him when he interviewed them for his books. The gist of it is that he learned to "shut up" (his words) and listen rather than interrupt. By letting his subjects fill the silence, he got a fuller and truer sense of who they are and what they had to say. We can most definitely take this into our lives as we listen to political figureheads on all sides and attempt to hear what they say, completely divorced from our own opinions.

There's a quote often attributed to Maya Angelou that says: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." I would add that as they show us unjust behavior, the right thing is to fight to correct such injustices rather than to accept them as a fait accompli.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 

(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.