When considering whether or not to report a transgression — a violation of law, policy, procedure, or ethics — there is more to ponder than right and wrong. Your own safety, in terms of career, position, and even life and limb, are also factors.
Here are four questions to consider. As in Part I, we use the term reporter for the person making the report, authority for the person receiving the report, and accused for the person whom the reporter believes has transgressed.
- Will the authority protect the reporter's identity?
- Some report recipients can be negligent about protecting the reporter's identity. Some actually feel obliged to disclose the reporter's identity to the accused.
- Unless the authority is known in advance to care about protecting the reporter's identity, reporting offenses is dangerous business. Still, if failing to report is even more dangerous, the authority's behavior might not be an issue.
- Can the reporter's identity remain private?
- Even if the authority wants to protect the reporter's identity, investigators and administrative personnel with access to the report might be less fastidious than the authority about protecting the reporter's identity.
- Following the pattern set by some legal frameworks, some people believe that those accused by reporters have a right to confront their "accusers." Whether this concept applies in the organizational context is debatable at best. In any case, if the investigating apparatus is "leaky," or if the accused has access to the report and the reporter's identity, making a report can be risky unless the organization provides formal protection for reporters.
- Are the reporter and accused at odds?
- Even if the reporter's identity is protected, the accused sometimes seeks revenge against people the accused suspects of being the reporter. If the reporter and the accused are already at odds for any reason, the accused might take action against the reporter, even without conclusive proof of the reporter's identity.
- This is one of the Even if the reporter's identity is
protected, the accused sometimes
seeks revenge against people
the accused suspects of
being the reportermany reasons to be on good terms — or at least, not bad terms — with everyone. Being at odds with someone who transgresses can create ethical quandaries.
- Will the accused (or someone else) seek retribution?
- Out of anger or to prevent further reports, the accused sometimes seeks retribution for reports. And if others, such as the supervisor of the accused, are also implicated in the allegations, they too might seek retribution.
- Even if your identity is protected, the accused sometimes does guess correctly who made the report. And sometimes the accused seeks retribution against anyone who could have made the report, "just to be sure."
If you expect to be targeted by the accused even if someone else is the reporter, reporting might well be your best option. With respect to the accused, you're no worse off than keeping silent; and with respect to the authority, you've done your part to keep the organization honest. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: I
- Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the
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- Cultural Indicators of Political Risk
- Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay
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- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.