Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm not going to take it anymore

Several months ago, I wrote about an editor who had been told by his boss that the services of one of the freelancers with whom he had had a long and positive relationship was going to be terminated sometime over the next couple of months.

It was understood that he should not let the freelancer know about his pending demise before his boss decided it was time to tell him. The editor decided to wait.

Once the news was delivered to the freelancer, the editor did recommend names of other potential outlets for his work, one of which did pick up the writer's work. Technically, the editor did nothing wrong. Still, he wondered if he should have let the freelancer know as soon as he learned the freelancer's days were numbered.

I believed the editor displayed professional courtesy and kindness by staying true to the company and by subsequently offering assistance to the freelancer. Any other action by the editor would have meant violating a trust with his boss.

But a reader found my advice to be questionable.

"Usually I agree with the advice you give," he writes, "but I don't think it fits today's reality. Companies aren't loyal to us anymore. In terms of disposability, 'human capital' ranks right up there with toilet paper.

"It is incredible how difficult it has become to find and retain any kind of employment," he continues, observing that it can take months to find even a part-time minimum-wage job.

"If I found out a close colleague had months of lead time on me losing my job and said nothing, my reaction would range somewhere between never speaking to that person again and outright physical assault," he says. "If I were the one with the knowledge, I wouldn't be able to sleep or eat until I had warned the person.

"To heck with the companies - we need to start looking out for each other."

My reader is correct about how hard it is for many people to find work today. The search can be harrowing and wreak havoc on an individual's and a family's ability to make ends meet.

But by helping the freelancer writer make contact with other potential employers, the editor did believe he was doing what he could to look out for the freelancer. Others might have decided to go against their boss's wishes and risked their own jobs to let the freelancer know as early as possible. In either case, it wasn't as if the editor treated the freelancer without compassion.

Granted, you can't eat compassion. And the freelancer could have benefited from those couple of extra months to find a new home for his work. But rather than resort to physical attacks or the silent treatment, he chose to take the editor up on his offer to help him find work elsewhere.

I still believe both the editor and the freelancer did the right thing. Regardless of how warranted it might seem, anger can blind us from responding in a way that allows us to move forward positively. It's our responses in such challenging situations that help us determine if we're capable of being the type of person we always believed we wanted to be.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal
Responsibility in Today's Business
and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

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