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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Do my bosses need to know how I spend my time off?



How much do we owe it to our bosses to let them know where we are all the time?

For months, J.L., a reader from California, had been planning to take two weeks off from work to travel with his daughter, a high school junior, to the East Coast to tour college campuses. Both he and his daughter had worked out the logistics, including flights, car rentals, staying at the homes of relatives, and scheduling the tours.

But two weeks before they were slated to travel, J.L.'s daughter was elected to serve as an officer for a national service organization to which she belonged. As part of the duties, she was expected to attend a week-long retreat in the Midwest with the rest of the officers, all expenses to be paid by the service organization. The dates for the retreat conflicted with the long-scheduled college tour schedule.

After agonizing over what to do, J.L.'s daughter decided it was important to meet her obligation to the service organization. So she asked J.L. if it would be OK to postpone the college tours. He agreed to the change and managed to cancel the flights and rental car and to alert all the family and friends that they wouldn't be visiting as originally scheduled.

Although his daughter was going to be away, J.L.'s son thought it would be fun to get his father to some of his favorite hangout spots during the week.

Typically, when J.L. is in town but not at work, he lets his bosses know so they can reach him if they have any questions about the projects in which he is working. Occasionally, this has resulted in J.L. going into work even when he was supposed to have a day off to help get a project completed. But this time he chose not to alert his bosses.

"I'm not telling the folks at work that I'm around, letting them think I'm back East," he writes. "Is this devious, wrong, showing a lack of character? You're the ethicist. Help me out here."

There is nothing devious or wrong about J.L.'s decision not to alert his bosses about his change in plans. He's taking time off. Where that time is taken should not be a concern to J.L.'s bosses. If J.L. told his bosses that they'd be able to reach him by cell when he's away, then nothing's changed on that front. Taking time off of work does not show a lack of character.

J.L. should not, however, lie about where he is. If he gets a call, he doesn't need to volunteer his location coordinates, but he shouldn't lie about them if directly asked. The right thing is for him to take the time off coming to him, be honest when asked, and to continue to do good work when he gets back to it. The right thing for his bosses would be to let J.L. take the time off that's coming to him without bugging him while he's away. What J.L. does on his time off should be up to J.L. 

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 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.