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 | By Tim Ryan

Enron Problem at Work?

A Guide to Speaking Up

Last year was devastating for the business community and the economy. Large corporations were staggered and some destroyed as the result of unethical business practices. Why did it take the financial ruin of hundreds of people before these problems were exposed? It would be easy to simply blame “greedy” corporate officers – but was there nobody else throughout these organizations who were suspicious enough to challenge these activities?

Before we start casting stones at anybody, however, we need to first look at our responsibility in our own workplaces. For example, there were situations early in my career in which I witnessed people being treated unfairly, or leaders taking advantage of their position. I ask myself now why I didn’t at least question that conduct. One reason, I believe, is because since these may have not been illegal activities, I thought I just had to accept that this was the nature of the workplace. Also, I wasn’t willing to risk my livelihood to challenge it. You may be able to relate to experiences as subtle as these, or possibly to those of a much more serious legal nature. In either case we can see how easy it is to succumb to an ethical decline in the workplace.

It is a tough dilemma to know when to take an ethical stand in certain situations. In the July 2002 issue of Workforce magazine (p. 28) Joan Dubinsky, an attorney and business ethicist, offers four standards to consider when faced with this challenge:

If uncorrected, the practice will cause harm to an individual or the general public.

Make sure that you have your facts straight and that the practice really is one that is questionable.

Be fairly certain that by bringing the matter before an outside group, the problem can be corrected and the harm avoided. There has to be a positive gain.

Weigh the personal risks that you may face if you choose to be a whistle-blower. Former employees can be just as powerful advocates for change.

We need to truly examine our own motives and actions and challenge ourselves to be God’s light in the workplace. We each have a personal responsibility to “raise the bar” of ethical behavior and not to fall victim to the temptation of placing priority only on our material security. As Pope John Paul II explains in his encyclical The Splendor of Truth, Jesus calls us to form our conscience to make it the object of continuous conversion to what is true and good. (64) Our hunger and thirst for righteousness must extend into the workplace, and only then will we find true satisfaction in our jobs and our lives.