Sunday, July 29, 2018

Using others' stories without permission is wrong


After a reader -- let's call her Pam -- was told by her boss that she was being removed from her job, Pam did her best to move on with her life and her career. The boss had listed several reasons for the removal, several of which Pam took issue. But she decided to take advantage of a generous severance package she'd negotiated, and move on.

Several months later, Pam had begun to build a new career for herself, unburdened by the demands and stress of her previous position. According to friends and colleagues, Pam also did her best not to bad mouth her former boss or to toss brick bats at her employer.

Few friends knew exactly what the reasons were for Pam's dismissal. Many knew she'd been dismissed, but not why, and most did not feel it their business to press for more information than Pam wanted to share. Most simply were pleased to see her embrace her new opportunities so well.

An old friend of Pam's had set up a Google alert for Pam's name several years earlier, after some work Pam had done gained some attention and the friend -- whom we're calling Gertie -- wanting to keep up. Those alerts had dwindled, but occasionally, Gertie would get an email letting her know Pam's name had appeared in an article online somewhere.

The most recent alert Gertie received took her aback. It included a link to a blog post from a disgruntled employee who reported to the boss who had dismissed Pam. While the blog was essentially a list of personal grievances, it named several other individuals whom the blog writer suggested had also been dealt with unfairly.

"It was pretty specific," Gertie writes. "And I'm not sure Pam would have wanted this stuff out there available for public view." The blog post listed several reasons the old boss allegedly had been telling people Pam was let go.

Gertie didn't know how accurate the information was or if Pam knew about the blog post. She wonders if she should respect Pam's privacy by not saying anything, or if, as a friend, the right thing is to let Pam know it's out there.

Even though the blog poster doesn't accuse Pam of anything and, in fact, uses her case as a way to point to their former boss's wrongdoing, she was wrong to disclose that information publicly if she did not seek Pam's permission first. It should be Pam's decision what she wants to publicly disclose about herself, not a blogger who wants to use Pam's situation for her own purposes.

The right thing is for Gertie to let Pam know the information is out on the internet as well as how she came across it. She should also make clear that she is only alerting Pam so Pam knows it's out there, not to pass judgment on her or to squeeze details about her dismissal from her.

In an effort to strengthen her own cause, a blog poster appears to have disclosed private information on someone else. Since the blog poster's issue is with her former boss. If she wants to avoid behaving as badly as she claims her former boss behave, she should keep Pam's and other employees' names out of her posts. 

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 rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

"Everyone is doing it" is no basis for doing it yourself


Years ago, after I had left my job as a magazine editor and took a significant cut in pay to become an assistant professor at a liberal arts college in the Northeast, a senior colleague advised me that from time to time I should apply for other teaching jobs even if I didn't want them.

He let me know that this was common practice among college professors since getting an offer with a high salary was pretty much the only way we could hope to get a significant raise as a counteroffer from our school. Over the decade or so I taught there, I considered applying for new jobs elsewhere and ultimately accepted my current position. I never tried to use an offer from somewhere else as leverage to get more money.

This might have been foolish, but I enjoyed working with the students at my school and, even though I knew I was not the most highly paid person in my position, I felt like I was fairly paid for the work.

Is it wrong to apply for jobs and use an offer as leverage with your current employer even if you don't really want the new job? Of course not. It might be a bit disingenuous to claim you're willing to accept a better salary offer from somewhere else if you have no intention of leaving. But who knows if when faced with a better offer you might decide to move on. If you're willing to accept the outcome of your attempt at negotiating -- more money or not more money -- regardless if you stay or go, then have at it.

A problem, however, with institutions failing to regularly evaluate whether their employees are fairly compensated rather than rely on the fear of losing someone to someplace else when presented with that reality is that it creates an odd incentive for some employees to be on a constant job search in hopes of extricating more money from their current employer.

The worst outcome is when employees simply lie about counteroffers, as a former professor at Colorado State University appears to have done. According to reports from CBS4 in Denver and The Chronicle ofHigher Education, the former professor went to the trouble to fabricate an offer letter from the University of Minnesota. The fabrication worked and resulted in a raise.

Now, he faces a felony charge for his handiwork.

In a letter reprinted on the Chronicle's website, the former professor essentially used the "everyone does it" excuse claiming that he knew of others who had used the same technique, a charge that does not appear to have been backed up by evidence. "I'm not excusing it, and I'm not excusing my own actions, but these factors are real," the former professor wrote.

The right thing, as you all know or should know, is not to lie or fabricate or falsify information to get what you believe you have coming to you -- even if you believe everyone else is doing so. Once you do so, the likelihood is that you'll get what's coming to you, even if it's not what you had hoped for. 

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 rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



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