6 ways to handle unethical behaviour at work

Ask questions first instead of making assumptions.

Regardless of the role you play, there is always a business ethics guideline enshrined in every company’s code of conduct.

So what happens when someone violates business ethics and what can you do to address this matter at work?

Violations can occur due to power abuse, manipulating other people’s work, bullying, disrespecting colleagues, discrimination, or even petty things like stealing office supplies.

Here’s what you can do when you encounter such unethical issues:

1. Consider the consequences and risk

Ask yourself which aspect of the value system is under violation. Determine whether it affects you personally or it involves the whole organisation.

Being clear about the issue will help you accurately identify the pros and cons of addressing it.

2. Find out why the person is risking it

When it comes to an unethical situation, finding out and listening to the offender’s perspective is an important aspect.

Seek to understand the reason behind his or her actions before passing judgement on the person.

Most people will have their reasons and motivation for acting in such a manner, while others may have been forced to commit the violation.

Put yourself in their shoes and try to determine what caused their behaviour and what they are trying to achieve.

3. Consider the pros and cons of the situation

If you are committed to take on the problem, you will need to consider the benefits of addressing the issue and the consequences if you don’t voice out.

The best outcome of voicing out is that it can help the organisation, especially if the unethical behaviour is putting the company at risk of severe consequences like a lawsuit, losing customer confidence or losing money.

It will ease your conscience as well if you do not remain silent.

Talk to the perpetrator to determine their reason and motivation.

4. Discuss with the perpetrator first

If you feel that the person is acting unethically, you should consider talking to the perpetrator first.

Generally, it’s better to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that when he or she sees how their behaviour is perceived, things will turn for the better.

Giving the person a chance to make things right is important. At the very least, you are giving the person an opportunity to explain his or her actions.

That being said, if the violation can lead to severe consequences, it is best to consider speaking to your boss or HR immediately.

5. Check first instead of accusing without validation

Giving a pep talk on morality is not the best way to go about it. The situation could even turn sour as the person starts to get defensive.

The best way to approach this situation is to ask questions first instead of making up assertions. Ask as if you are trying to understand the situation.

This will help if the offending person is not aware that he or she is doing something unethical and your questioning may help them to see the issue at hand.

Asking questions is the safest way to gauge whether the person is going to open up to you about his or her actions or whether you need to look into other means to figure out a solution.

6. Escalate only if necessary

If the person does not take kindly to your questioning, you should end the discussion right there and then.

You can then proceed to meet with your boss if you think that you cannot sort out the problem by yourself.

Throughout the six stages, be open to what you’re hearing and try to understand the varied perspectives of the other person before you arrive at a conclusion.

This article first appeared in Jobstore. First launched in New York, Jobstore is one of the largest job distribution platforms which offers services in over 10 countries.