Managers may not be getting away with as much unethical behavior as they think. When employees and customers may find it easier to just walk away than complain, the managers may not appreciate that their ethics have been called into question. That is the message I take from a raging discussion about business ethics on Reddit.
“Firing a manager then dumping their responsibilities on a regular worker with no pay raise,” the response from Reddit user “Lunarkskies92” is a popular answer to an ethics question posted yesterday.
“What is unethical [colorful comparison deleted], but is extremely common practice in the business world?” asked user “IllCreme.” Now upvoted 39,200 times with 13,300 comments, the discussion is blowing up.
It’s clear from the comments that management and employees don’t always see ethical questions through the same lens. Variations on the theme of exploiting employees by dumping too much work on them topped the charts. The remedy repeatedly reported was quitting. A few suggested that a bit of team solidarity, refusing to work excessive overtime as a group or department worked to get management to hire additional help.
“Ihateambrosiasalad” highlighted two industries as consistent abusers for “Chronically and purposely understaffing. Looking at you, retail and assisted living companies.”
“The staff who take care of our aging citizens are being treated like dirt,” agreed “FeatheredSun.”
One of the worst examples of commonplace unethical behavior toward employees was systematic wage theft. User “4006F35EB9” shared her story working for a national motel chain local franchisee that not only had a system for underpaying employees who worked overtime but had developed a consistent but confusing obfuscation to discourage employees from figuring it out or obtaining redress.
“Newyearnewunderwear” commented about not feeling respected when required to volunteer on a weekend. “[Corporate] Cares Day was this bullsh*t Saturday when we were expected to go paint an elementary school or something so they could put pictures of their wholesome volunteerism in the annual report.”
As an advocate for corporate social responsibility, I was pleased to note that this was one of the least popular complaints in the thread, but it highlights key issues. Requiring weekend volunteerism may not be an effective way to build a relationship with employees. Other companies offer employees paid time off to do volunteer work.
Not all the unethical behavior is directed to employees, however.
User “ckellingc” said, “I worked as a fraud investigator at a bank. We have rules and laws that we have to abide by, or the company got fined. I had a higher up (probably second or third tier from CEO) tell us explicitly that there are no exceptions to the rules except for our more affluent customers.’” The implied message is clear, there are no rules for the rich. Imagine how deflating such a message is for an employee who is not rich and is charged with enforcing the rules.
The most popular response to the comment above, “That’s why I hate management, they lie,” posted by “PhilosopherMaster1,” says a lot about the impact of double standards and hypocrisy. People value and expect transparency and equity.
Managers must sometimes believe that because employees don’t call them on their misbehavior or their weak explanations that the employees accept them. Some certainly do. This Reddit thread suggests that more often, the employees see and measure the unethical conduct and don’t approve, moving them closer to quitting.
Some unethical behavior targets vendors.
“Slefj4elcj” offered up one example: “Not paying invoices until you’ve been chased multiple times. As standard policy.” One popular response to this comment from “palordrolap,” highlights the irony and hypocrisy, “Had a boss who did this, but hated it when people did it to them.”
Consumers are just as angry as employees. Violating ethical norms with respect to customers would seem fatal to entire industries. That they flourish may suggest that unethical behavior is accepted or tolerated. The discussion suggests a simmering consumer resentment that should make managers take note.
“I hate how convoluted it is to cancel a gym membership in most places. It’s super shady,” says “TheBloodEagleX.”
“I had such a hard time canceling my [national gym chain] membership, I finally had to cancel the [debit] card it withdrew from,” confirmed “Okaybutactually.”
If you are a manager, a careful read of the Reddit thread should give you pause. Things you may not see as unethical—asking salaried employees to work overtime, for instance—are often viewed that way by employees. Things you may know are sketchy but think you are getting away with but aren’t may also surprise you.
At a time when a single negative post on Glassdoor, Linkedin or Indeed can have material impact on your recruiting and your reputation, this discussion is a good reminder to focus on aligning management and employees with your company values like integrity and fairness.