When we go to work each day, each of us participates in a unique workplace community where we share common values with others while accomplishing certain goals. So why is it some people insist on criticizing others when those people are trying to uphold community standards?
Before I continue, let's look closer at the word "community." It comes from the Latin word communis, which means "common, public, shared by all or many." And communis is also the root for the English words commerce, communication, committee, and commitment.
We have business communities, virtual communities, and an international community.
In the workplace, corporate values set the tone for what kind of community we strive to have there. And frankly, I don't know of any employer who creates a list of values in which people are to be criticized for trying to do things right.
Yet criticizing people who adhere to a code of ethical, moral behavior seems to occur more often than most of us would like to admit.
Consider Calvin, a father of four who works nights at regional distribution center. When one of his co-workers was viewing "inappropriate material" on the Internet at work, Calvin struggled with what to do. He knew such behavior was against company policy, and he also knew this co-worker had recently gotten married.
If he followed company policy to the letter, Calvin could have written up his coworker via formal channels. But rather than put a permanent and embarrassing black mark on this man's record, Calvin tried an indirect route. He causally mentioned that it was against company policy to be viewing such material on company computers.
Suffice to say Calvin's coworker did not take kindly to the indirect nudge. In fact, he blasted Calvin for being nosy and he started a character assassination campaign against him. Before long, Calvin was being made the butt of jokes and was ostracized by many of his coworkers – sometimes by his own boss.
All of this hit Calvin out of left field. In the months that followed, Calvin said he felt he was being treated as a leper. His sense of commitment to the work community waned. Rather than get up each day and look forward to going to work, he dreaded it. As I mentioned, this type of scenario is probably more common than we'd like to admit. Maybe you've been a victim in a similar circumstance, or maybe you've even participated with the crowd against someone like Calvin.
At question here, really, is the true value of your company value statement, as well as the character of your work community. In order for values to be more than just a statement framed and hanging on a wall, they must be modeled and enforced.
When Calvin shared this story with me I was surprised to hear that his boss was participating in the attacks. The circumstances were such that his boss was new, and was unaware of Calvin's long history of being a valuable employee.
Whether the new boss was taking the wrong road in an effort to be accepted or was just ignorant of a manager's responsibilities, there's really no excuse. A manager ought to know better.
In other words, if managers and leaders will not model the expected behaviors for the workplace community, its unlikely the rest of the employees will have any regard for community standards, either.
Of course, some, like Calvin, will want to do the right thing no matter what. But some won't. And just like in any community, if rules aren't enforced, the environment tends to deteriorate to the least common denominator.
If you find yourself in Calvin's position, I have two suggestions. First, document everything that happened, but be objective. Leave all assumptions and descriptions of feelings out of the writing.
Second, be professional and call the situation for what it is. In Calvin's case he can go directly to his supervisor with his documentation. If he gets no resolution, he can go to HR. This is not to threaten anyone, but rather be steadfast in sticking to principles.
Bottom line, a company's value statement needs to be more than just well-chosen words. If the company, and that includes the managers, will not abide by and enforce ethical principles, then like any other community without rules, expect the workplace to deteriorate.