Ethics, Hostile Work Environments, and St. Wenceslaus

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I receive all kinds of email messages from employees who are conflicted and troubled by workplace behaviors. Hostile managers. Angry co-workers. Financial shenanigans. Stupid behavior on the part of workers, managers, and executives.

I am not a business ethics professor with my PhD in psychology, but I read these email messages and I am always reminded of the first time I learned a lesson about ethics.

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When I was in seventh grade, I was a crossing guard at the corner of Roscoe and Monticello. This was back in the day when you could send your kid out at 7:15AM to stand in traffic on a side-street of Chicago while wearing an orange belt across her winter jacket. I felt very empowered.

Anyway, I was standing at the corner trying to mind my own business when I overheard an older boy tell another girl that she was a slut.

That’s right. We had a slut among us at St. Wenceslaus in 1987. Scandal.

Now this boy was cute, and I wanted him to think I was pretty, and I wasn’t even sure what he meant. How did he know that this girl was a slut? What’s this all about? Do you have to kiss someone with your mouth open to be a slut?

Before I could explore these deep thoughts, the girl started to cry. She sobbed, actually, and the boy smiled.

Ugh. It was so complicated. I winced and hoped it would all go away.

*

Unfortunately, the girl reported the incident to the meanest nun in the planet, Sister Elizabeth. Naturally, there was an investigation. For the record, nuns are just like HR professionals — they want to get involved and document shit like it’s an OSHA compliance investigation.

I was called into the nun’s classroom and asked about the facts of the case. Simply put, Sister Elizabeth wanted to know if I overheard the tawdry language.

And what did I say? Well, it was tough. I liked the boy. He was cute. I didn’t want to see him get in trouble. I didn’t want to get involved. I wasn’t really sure if the girl was a slut. So I said no, no way, I didn’t hear a thing. Keep moving. Nothing to see here.

There was silence.

Sister Elizabeth took one look at me and said, “Let me tell you something, Lauren. No boy would ever do this for you.”

*

Snap.

*

I know that the nun was trying to teach me a lesson about feminism and gender equality, but I think about this story when people ask me if they should report unethical behavior in the workforce.

  • I know you like some of your coworkers.
  • Times are tough.
  • You need your job.
  • You don’t know the facts and you don’t want to get involved.

Should you report unethical behavior? Should you say something when you see another colleague being mistreated? I can’t answer those question for you, but I can advise you that Sister Elizabeth was right. No man has ever covered for me in the way I covered for this boy, and I did this young girl a disservice by not standing up and corroborating her story.

I also did a disservice to this boy. He got away with being a dick at such a young age. He is probably somebody’s dickish boss. Saying stupid things. Getting away with it.

See what happens when you stand on the sidelines? Even at the age of twelve, it’s pretty clear that doing the right thing is always the right answer.

Someone has to stop the cycle of stupidity in life & in the workforce. Why not you?

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