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Advice for Being Loyal

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Loyalty is one of the most admired virtues. At times, you will be faced with a dilemma whether or not to blow the whistle on illegitimate policies and practices of your employer. Here is a piece of advice --whether you have to be loyal or not.

  • Don't obey orders that you know to be illegal or against the best interests of the firm, your superior's performance, or your reputation. The ability to say "no" (which doesn't come easily) is the highest demonstration of loyalty.

  • Strive to find an organization that believes loyalty is reflected in hard work, but not useless "face time"; in trying to please your superior, but not in blind obedience; in protecting your firm's reputation, but not in false communications. Most of all, try to work for a firm that believes that communicating upward truthfully and candidly is the mark of a loyal employee.

  • Don't be naive in blowing the whistle. And don't expect to be a hero in your organization. Be very analytic and careful in assessing the facts on which your case would be based. Can you document company wrongdoing in a way that would persuade a skeptical reporter or a dispassionate judge that the actions and motives of management are what you say they are?

  • Consult your family. Explain why you feel it is necessary to act and try to win their support. Be frank in acknowledging that they may be hurt.

  • If you decide to go ahead, determine just what kind of company conduct you are protesting. If it is clearly illegal or unsafe conduct, you can hope to be vindicated and still work in the same job or industry. But if it is the lawful business or social policies that you feel you must protest, be aware that you will probably be dismissed.

  • Inform yourself fully of company procedures for appealing up through the chain of command to the highest available management level. Get a written copy of such complaint procedures and follow them rigorously.

  • Decide whether you want to act anonymously or publicly. If you want to keep your identity secret, consider consulting a whistle-blower group or an investigative reporter.

  • Before and while moving through internal channels, document your position at every step of the way. Keep a log of everything that happens.

  • If the problem is one that is regulated by law, learn what the procedures are for lodging a complaint with the relevant government agency. Look out for the time limits and whether complaints must be made first to company officials before the government.

  • Stay on your best behavior with superiors and peers. You don't want to create any additional problems for yourself.

  • If you are fired or forced to resign because of your protest, be aware that your right to discuss the case in public is strong but not unlimited. There could be some "gag-ruling" limitations while litigation is pending or if confidential proprietary information is involved.

  • If you cannot win damages or reinstatement through an appeal to a government regulatory agency (if any) with jurisdiction over the issue you have raised, be ready to consider a lawsuit alleging that your discharge or punitive treatment violates public policy.

  • Recognize that you will face ethical dilemmas no matter how moral you try to be. Mo evidence exists that unethical managers are more successful than ethical ones, but those who are less socially conscious may be promoted a bit faster. Therefore, periodically you should examine your personal values and question how much you will sacrifice for the firm. Try to define what is your personal line of compromise beyond which you will not retreat.

  • Courage is usually required to depart from unethical situations, but it can be even tougher to stay. Staying implies you either acquiesce at the expense of your integrity or that you will strive to change what is being done. And this means accepting responsibility and a measure of guilt while things are cleaned up. But this is what leadership is all about.

  • Do not automatically accept all the tales of managerial perversity that you hear. Attributing others' success to unethical behavior is sometimes an excuse for one's own personal inadequacies. Most of all, don't commit a wrongful act in the hope that your superior will see it as loyalty and reward you for it. Some will of course, but they may also sacrifice you when the firm is criticized.

Above all, strive to find a firm that generally shares your personal values. Ask prospective colleagues what principles you would be fired for violating. If they can't think of anything beyond stealing, the firm is not likely to value much else (or if it does, it hasn't communicated what). If, on the other hand, they can cite behavior which you also find unacceptable, you may have an employer with which you will feel compatible.
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