Sunday, August 25, 2013

Must I take this job offer if a better one comes along?

Job hunting can be brutal for anyone. For recent college graduates facing a mountain of debt from student loans, it can seem even more overwhelming.

Granted, having an undergraduate or graduate degree can give someone an edge in landing a good position, but the often overwhelming debt that can go along with that earned degree can be daunting.

Recently graduated students are eager to have as many employment options as possible. Who wants to shut the door on an OK job if the job of your dreams might not be quickly forthcoming?

I wasn't surprised when I received a note from a recent graduate, asking: "Is it ethical to accept a job today with the possibility that I might renege at some later date?"

He wanted to know what happens if after agreeing to a job offer, a better one comes up. "Assuming I haven't started the first job, is it unethical to renege on this acceptance?"

The student wrestling with the question seems to believe that while the security of having a job offer in the back pocket while you continue to search seems comforting, there's something unethical about it, especially if he continues to job hunt after he's accepted that initial offer.

In an ideal world, I suppose, each of us would find one job we love and an employer who loves us and remained gainfully and fulfillingly employed for the rest of our careers. No one would ever have to worry about where the next job or stellar employee came from. That world doesn't exist for employee or employer.

Accepting a job implies a commitment to taking that job and doing your utmost to do good work for your new employer. It also implies that an employer will honor its commitment to providing the job promised when you interviewed. More often than not these days, these too can be ideal rather than real situations.

Just as things might change with an employer that make a job quite a bit different than what was promised, an employee's situation might change.

If a better offer comes along before the initial job offered commences is it wrong to take the better job? I don't believe so.

The right thing is to be forthcoming with the initial prospective employer as soon as possible and to let it know you've decided to accept an offer elsewhere. If possible, it's far better to do this before you start the job for a number of reasons. For one, the employer has not committed time and resources to training you for the new job. Plus, on a practical personal level, jumping from job to job after very short tenures can raise concerns among future prospective employers.

Honoring commitments is important. But just as few employers are likely to guarantee a job for life to an employee, an employee shouldn't be expected not to accept the offer that is in his best long-term interests. As long as he doesn't lie to a prospective employer and works to act as swiftly as possible in notifying the employer if he decides not to take a job offer, then he is on solid ground in doing what's right. 

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Disclosing one another's email addresses

A psychotherapist reached out to ask me if she thought a lawyer acquaintance had acted inappropriately. The psychotherapist regularly serves as a supervisor to visits that noncustodial parents have with their children. As a condition of the visit, a third party in addition to the noncustodial parent and child must be present to ensure the safety of the child. Because these visitations are often court ordered, the noncustodial parent's lawyer will often contact the psychotherapist to help set up the initial visits.

After one such meeting with the parent and child, the psychotherapist emailed the lawyer to report that one visit had occurred and to fill him in on the status of future visits. While the psychotherapist and lawyer had established a policy of keeping one another updated via email, the psychotherapist had a policy of not emailing her clients, but instead speaking with them by phone to set up appointments.

She was taken aback when the lawyer responded to her email by copying the noncustodial parent to suggest that they follow up with one another about future visits via email.

The psychotherapist wants to know if the lawyer crossed a line by copying the noncustodial parent, disclosing her email address and suggesting he email her.

I believe he did.

Where the lawyer went wrong was in not consulting the psychotherapist first to tell her that he planned to copy the client on his email to her and suggest the email contact.

Such gaffes occur regularly in other situations. When, for example, a friend decides that you might be able to help someone he knows with something and wants to introduce the two of you, he might send an email to each of you simultaneously rather than emailing you first to ask if you are OK with him doing this.

The right thing in such circumstances is to ask the recipients first before sharing their email addresses with others. Many people will agree to help via email, but it should be up to them before they are put on the spot.

Granted, many of our email addresses are widely available to anyone who wants to find them. But it should have been up to the psychotherapist how private she wanted her email to be and how she preferred to have contact with her clients.

The same is true for the rest of us.

We should be the ones to decide when and with whom to share email addresses or other contact information. Our professional acquaintances and friends should understand that just because they can share a colleague's or friend's contact information with anyone they want doesn't mean they should without clearing it with the colleague or friend first.

The psychotherapist says that what's done is done. Now that her client has her email address, she'll simply request that he continue contacting her by phone. But she plans to let the lawyer know that she'd prefer in the future that he not share her email address with existing clients without consulting with her first. She's hopeful that the lawyer will not bill the client for the time she spends clarifying this issue with him. 

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Who gets into the hall?

On the last Sunday in July, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., inducted its latest class of hall of famers. Typically, the sportswriters who vote on those Major League Baseball players who are eligible give at least one player a nod into the Hall. This year, no player got enough votes. Three people did get inducted -- a team owner, an umpire, a 19th-century catcher -- but they came via the veterans committee. All three were inducted posthumously.

It's not the first time sportswriters dunned the eligible crowd. The last time was 1996. But this year was different. It seemed to be a message that the sportswriters were closing the doors to the Hall of Fame to those who either admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while playing the game or are alleged to have used them.

The New York Times reported that Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Fame former shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, said that "being rejected by voters 'is one of the things you have to weigh when you decide to do something wrong. ... You have to realize you won't get in'."

Dennis McNamara, the nephew of Hank O'Day, the umpire elected into the Hall, told the crowd assembled in Cooperstown that the lesson of his uncle "is do your best with honesty and integrity -- a lesson that might be in the minds of some players not elected."

Perhaps Smith and McNamara are correct -- that if you get caught or suspected of using steroids to boost your performance, you don't deserve a place among the baseball immortals in the Hall. But do some of these players still deserve to be considered given their overall contribution to the game?

Some sportswriters obviously think so given the healthy percentage of votes some of the higher profile players suspected of steroid use received. Sports bars and baseball stadiums are littered with vocal supporters of these players.

Still others believe a spot in the Hall of Fame should be reserved for those players whose prowess was based on skills not amplified by steroids.

One former major league player told me that he thinks that, eventually, some of the players who had a storied career before their steroid use was obvious might find their way into the Hall, essentially arguing to discount their statistics after the steroid use began. If they juiced up from the get-go, he felt they had no place being honored.

This year's vote may have been meant as a symbolic message that steroid use will keep you out of the Hall. If that was the intent, then it's important that from now on the veterans committee holds true to this stance and restrains from letting in the biggest culprits. Otherwise, it's a hollow gesture.

The right thing falls back on assessing how people choose to behave when they decide to be together. If no one cares about steroid use in the league or among the fans, then there's no reason not to vote for players suspected of steroid use. But if the decision is made to base the votes to the best of their knowledge on letting in players whose performance was not enhanced by steroids, then the sportswriters sent the right message this year.

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 Apartis a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Did you read my email?

An email arrived on a late Monday afternoon that seemed part question and part challenge.

A reader from Northern California wrote to say that in a typical week, he might send out five emails to members on the staff of various organizations with information that he believes they might find interesting. On weeks when relevant news is breaking, he says he might send out as many as 10 to 20 of these emails.

When he sends his emails out, he indicates that he usually clicks the box for "request a read receipt," which would allow his recipients who receive his emails to click if they want him to know they read his emails. "However," he writes, "my tracking record of confirmation feedback of a read receipt is less than 10 percent."

Assuming that not all of the emails he sends out go unopened or unread, the reader wants to know what ethical obligation his email readers have when confronted with this request for confirmation that they have read his email.

"It seems to me that from an ethical perspective if you are going to read the email you should acknowledge that simple act with an affirmation to this confirmation request," he writes. But he acknowledges that human nature probably causes people to believe that it really does not matter since the confirmation could be considered a reply which is their option and their choice.

His question seemed clear enough: Do recipients have an ethical obligation to click and send back requested read email receipts?

But as I was reading his email, sure enough, a box requesting me to click on it to confirm receipt of his email popped up on my screen. It seemed the reader had embedded a challenge as well as a question. His test was whether or not I would click on the box so he would know I received the email.

I did. But you are under no ethical obligation to do so.

Simply because an email writer clicks on this feature does not obligate the rest of us to take the time to use it. Some might not want to engage the original sender any further than his initial email and believe by sending the receipt they might send the wrong message that they wish to continue the conversation.

Many others might simply find that requested receipt feature to be a nuisance. (Of equal curiosity is the use of the "urgent" classification of an email that is accompanied by a red asterisk. I have yet to receive one of those that required any sense of urgency.)

There is no accepted practice among email users that every request from an unknown sender must or should be honored. It might annoy the sender that recipients don't comply in the manner he would like, but annoyances don't always translate to ethical transgressions.

Still, as a courtesy to a reader I clicked on the box and returned the read receipt. I also responded within a few minutes of his initial email's arrival and asked the sender a handful of questions. As of six days after my email was sent, I've received no response. 

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(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.