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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Should I lie to colleagues about applying for a job?



About 10 years ago, after working full-time for many years, A.L. decided she wanted to start working part-time so she would have more time to pursue other interests. Soon after making the decision, she was offered a part-time position. The pay was good, the hours were based on her availability, and the office was less than a mile from where she lived.

Over the years, the number of hours A.L. put into the job continued to grow as demand for her services grew. Ultimately, she was putting in just shy of a 30-hour work week and had built strong working relationships with her colleagues who held full-time positions.

A few weeks ago, one of A.L.'s colleague's retired, and an opening for a full-time spot opened up.

A.L. checked the job description for the new position and confirmed that the firm was looking for someone whose skills matched her own. A.L. had been considering trying to cut back on her hours, but she began to think that since the distance between the part-time hours she was already putting in and a full-time job had shrunk significantly over the past decade, it might be wise to consider applying.

After mulling it over, A.L. submitted a cover letter and her resume to the human resources department.

Now, she says, she finds herself facing another decision.

"I feel bad when colleagues ask me if I applied for the job," she says.

"I can't lie and say 'no' when they ask me directly," she says, "but I'm concerned that people will resent our manager if he gives the job to someone else." She fears they will both be disappointed that A.L. wasn't offered the position and the amount of time it will take to break in a new colleague. She also worries that her colleagues will think she's a bad sport if she decides to cut back her hours if she is not offered the full-time position.

"I know they want me to be offered and to take the job," she says.

A.L. asks if she should tell the truth if colleagues ask her about the job.

If colleagues discuss the job in general with her, A.L. has no ethical obligation to tell whether she has applied for the position. The same goes if they tell her how good it would be for her to get the full-time position. In the latter case, a simple "thanks for the vote of confidence" would suffice.

But if A.L. does apply and her colleagues directly ask her if she has applied for the position, the right thing is not to lie. Sure, it may be none of their business what A.L. decides to do, but A.L. should not lie. She should tell the truth not only because her lie might be exposed if it turns out she is offered and takes the position, but because her integrity is on the line. It's difficult to justify lying to a group of colleagues with whom she has built trust over the past decade.

A.L. can change the subject if she wants to. She can respond by telling colleagues that she'd rather not say. Or she can tell the truth. But the right thing is not to lie about her decision. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Should old classmate apologize for childhood behavior?



Several weeks ago, M.N., a reader from Boston was making his daily commute to work on his city's subway line. Wanting to get a little extra exercise on a good weather day, he got off the train two stops early so he could walk the final mile or so to work.

As he was leaving the station, M.N. noticed a woman who looked familiar. It then registered that he had gone to grade school and high school with the woman a few decades ago. While they were never close friends, she had friended him on Facebook several months earlier. That's how he recognized her when he saw her.

"Annabel?" he asked, as he neared her on the station platform (although that's not her real name). She looked over, acknowledged him, and they exchanged pleasantries, agreeing that they should try to get together some time for lunch or coffee.

But while M.N. was not close to Annabel when they were growing up together, he remembers distinctly how many members of his class used to pick on Annabel, making fun of her looks or awkward style. M.N. can't remember if M.N. was anymore awkward than other classmates. While he didn't join in the teasing of Annabel, M.N. does recall that he never interceded when such events took place by telling any of his friends who were among those doing the teasing to stop.

M.N. vividly recalls Annabel being in tears or desperately trying to avoid her taunters in the hallway. He regrets that he never tried to put a stop to it back then. Now, however, he wondered whether he should have said anything to Annabel when they met on the subway platform.

"Should I have apologized for not having tried to stop some of the teasing, particularly when it came from friends I hung out with?" asks M.N. "Was I wrong to make small talk with Annabel without acknowledging those painful episodes?"

While it would have shown exceptional character for M.N. to go against his friends and discourage them from the teasing, he's likely not alone in turning a blind eye to such behavior. Perhaps fear of being teased himself kept him from interceding. The right thing would be for other students to stand up for any kids being bullied or teased and try to put a stop to it. Had M.N. done so back in the day that would likely have been good for both him and Annabel.

But M.N. can't undo what's done. Should he have brought up the teasing? It was certainly not necessary on such a brief encounter on a subway platform. That he acknowledged Annabel, and was gracious toward her was the right thing to do.

If M.N. and Annabel do decide to have coffee or lunch together sometime later, the discussion may turn to the issue of the teasing. But while M.N. can be apologetic, the right thing would be to take Annabel's lead about how much she wants to discuss the past. Giving her control over that would be a small token to make up for not trying to help put a stop to behavior she couldn't control in the past. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Doing right even when it might embarrass others



When H.D. decided to replace the lighting fixture in his home bathroom, he decided to buy a new one from the nearby big-box hardware store. He lived in an old house and the existing bathroom fixture hadn't been changed in more than 40 years, but he was hoping it would be a simple job.

H.D. drove to the store, found a fixture he thought might look good, purchased it and returned home. After he tried to install it, he decided it didn't look as good as he hoped so he took the fixture off the wall, put it in its box, and returned to the store to find a different one.

Once in the store, H.D. found a few fixtures in the lighting section he liked better. He then solicited the help of a customer service representative.

The customer service rep was very helpful and offered to open up a few boxes containing the other fixtures in which H.D. was interested so he could see them up close. The customer service representative was very attentive and spent several minutes helping H.D.

Eventually, H.D. decided on the one he liked best. It cost a few dollars more than the earlier one that H.D. had purchased. H.D. explained to the customer service representative that he had to return the fixture he bought before purchasing this new one.

"Do you have your receipt for the old one?" the customer service representative asked.

H.D. told him that he did. The customer service representative then offered to put the more expensive fixture in the old fixture's box and told H.D. he could just leave the store with it.

Even though it seemed that the customer service representative was trying to do him a favor, the offer didn't feel quite right to H.D. since the new fixture cost a few dollars more. Still, H.D. didn't want to embarrass the customer service representative by declining his offer. So he let the customer service representative put the more expensive fixture in the less expensive one's box and left the store.

"What should I have done?" asks H.D.

By allowing his concern about embarrassing the customer service representative guide his decision, after he made his offer, H.D. effectively stole from the big box store. His instinct about the offer not feeling "quite right" was a good one.

The right thing would have been to decline the offer, return the less-expensive fixture, and then pay the asking price for the new fixture. H.D. was wrong to participate in deceiving the store by leaving with a more expensive item in the wrong box. It would have been no different had he pocketed a handful of nails equal to the price difference and left the store without paying.

If the customer service representative had the discretion to offer the slightly more expensive item for the same price, he should have told H.D. that. He didn't indicate that he did and the suggestion of switching boxes suggests he knew what he was doing was wrong. Wanting to help H.D. find the right fixture was a good thing to do. That's part of the customer representative's job. Offering to help him defraud his employer was wrong. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.