Why IT Pros Should Speak Up On Ethical Issues
Being an IT pro comes with a ton of technical tasks that are going to keep you very busy. But just because you're working through the weeds of the tech doesn't mean you have to turn a blind eye to corporate ethics.
You have to keep your own ethics in check with the work that you're doing and speak up when you're sure it's right for you to do it. Because of the sensitive nature of ethics, we go over the things you should understand before trying to put out an ethical fire that threatens to burn down your corporate structure.
Unethical Versus Illegal
In basic terms, the legality of our actions is defined by the courts, which means that there is a clear and measurable guide that will determine if you are breaking the law. If something is unethical, the only guide that you have is either a code of ethics which is specific to specific fields, such as the legal or medical professions.
The issue of ethics is super subjective, and the subjective nature changes from person to person, with some personality types being more prone to feelings of guilt and shame than others. Does a clear conscience mean that you have done no wrong? It's hard to say for sure, which is why you should always make sure that you are on the right side of the company's policies and procedures before deciding how to act.
Check Your Organization's Policy
Reading through your company policy is usually one of the first things that you should do when you join a new company. Going over this document gives you a clear understanding of what your organization requires of you and your department. Being familiar with the specifics of your company's policies when something ethically questionable happens, ensures that you act appropriately when you feel like you need to report it to your manager, or to Human Resources,
A company policy will usually lay out what the procedure is for lodging complaints, or for reporting suspicious or irresponsible behavior. In most cases, the IT policy documentation will also cover topics that relate to IT resource usage, and what is deemed to be an appropriate and inappropriate utilization of these resources.
Get the Facts
Maybe a colleague in your department hasn't finished the security report they were supposed to, and it now affects the rest of the company, only they don't know it yet. Maybe another coworker is using the company's network resources for personal use, or working on non-work related projects instead of performing their job functions during business hours. Perhaps your manager seems to be turning a blind eye to some software licensing issues that you picked up at one of your remote office locations. What should you do?
Resist the temptation to set the wheels in motion by reporting someone until you understand the situation entirely. Always remember there are many other factors at play in any given situation, so be sure to take your time and think things through before acting. Perhaps your colleague hasn't finished the security report because he/she needs to collect all the data before they can report to management. Maybe your manager is negotiating a better license rate for the software that you need for that remote office.
When in doubt, ask the person directly. Running to management before letting the person know about your concerns first will not only make them look guilty but will reflect poorly on you, as well. It creates the impression that you are not a team player and that you aren't willing to let people know when there are issues in the IT department.
Share your concerns with the person who you feel is acting unethically, and let them know that you're worried that what they're doing might not be the best approach. This discussion shouldn't be a confrontation — if you frame the situation correctly. If you're in a smaller department, it's vital that you let the person know their actions have the potential to affect everybody who works with them as well.
Instead of charging into their office with accusations, ask questions like, "Can you help me understand why we haven't reported the full extent of X? I am worried that if we leave X for much longer that we will be seen to be slacking off and not taking the situation seriously." This conversation has the potential to lead to confrontation, but there is a good chance that the person will respond positively, and will help remedy the situation.
Is it the Right Fit?
If you feel like there aren't necessary procedures in place at your company to help you when you encounter grey-area behavior, then you might want to consider moving on from that company sooner rather than later. And that's ok. Long-term exposure to unethical behavior can hurt your morale and leave you questioning your career choices, which is not a healthy way to spend your time at work.
Sometimes you need to listen to your gut instinct, and if you are feeling guilty and anxious all the time because of unresolved issues that you are not comfortable with, then it could be time to update your resume and start looking for a better job at a more morally responsible organization.
If you feel like you can set things right at work, then remember: Speaking up when you need to is not only right for you, but for the organization as a whole. Honesty is, after all, the best policy.