Quint Column: Follow your values

Quint Studer

I’ve seen a troubling, and sadly, common situation come up a few times in recent weeks.

What does an employee do when they are directed by their boss to do something they feel is wrong? We’ve all read or heard about such instances. And if you notice, which person typically pays the price when things go wrong? Often the person directed to do the action.

I was talking to a friend and told them about a person they know who did something that did not appear correct and values-driven.

“He had to. He was directed by his boss,” the person told me.

Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I just don’t agree. When a person is put in a position that will create a compromise with their values, it is better for the person to stay true to what is right versus doing what is not right. 

Can someone rationalize that they had to do it? Sure. I suggest that they would have been better off just saying no. What if I was fired? It’s possible, though I’d doubt it since the supervisor making the unethical request likely wouldn’t want the fired person to share the issue – and perhaps other unethical doings – once gone.

An executive at a company shared that during the interview process at her workplace she was provided a case study. The person could either do something directed by their boss that was not correct or push back on the boss. The individual explained to the interviewer that she would rather quit than take the directed action they provided. 

Guess what? She got the job. 

After she started, she was surprised to hear that many of the applicants said if the boss directed them to do something, even if they knew it was wrong, they would do it. 

Values-based organizations and people should never put an employee in that situation.

Ask yourself: In these situations, what would you do? 

— You work in a restaurant and some meat is beyond the recommended date to be used. Your boss says use it anyway. Would you use it?

— You’re a Realtor looking to list a house and become aware of a termite issue. It is one that will go unnoticed for a while. Do you list the home without making potential buyers aware?

— Your boss is upset at someone and wants you to use social media to discredit this person. You know it does not fit the published work standards or your own standards. Do you do it? What if you have a year to go until retirement and if you don’t, you fear retribution.

— What if a co-worker asked you to cover up a mistake. Do you do it?

— Your boss uses vulgar language; do you confront them? Do you confront a co-worker?

Historically there are stories of many people who are recognized for taking action. There are just as many who refused to take action if they felt it was not correct. There are also difference makers and heroes. 

James Collins, the well-recognized researcher and author, wrote in “Built to Last” that organizations face moments in which they must choose values versus revenue. The conclusion is that in the long run, companies that selected values do much better than companies that chose revenue.

It is the same with people. An employee who puts values first can look at themselves in the mirror and their children in the eye. A leader should never put the employees in such a tenuous position. 

The good news is the values-driven companies and leaders far outweigh those who are not. 

Some tips if you are placed in such an uncomfortable situation:

— When asked to do something that is not correct, explain to the person asking you to take the action why you feel the way you do. This gives the person the chance to share information that you may not have. 

— If after getting the explanation you are still uncomfortable, explain why and offer to talk with others in the company if need be.

— Document conversations.

— If you see action that is not correct and your direct supervisor is not listening go over their heads. Many companies even have hotlines today. 

— If there is retribution, report it.

— If necessary, reach out to state and national hotlines. Also, seek legal advice.

Though I wish the above was not needed, I am afraid at times it is necessary. It can save others from similar situations and create better lives for employees and customers. 

Most likely you work with or have worked for people who never placed you in such a spot. Take time to thank them.


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