Category Archives: 3. News You Can Use

Complicity Can Lead to Bad Business

When we know something is wrong and we ignore it, we are complicit in the consequences. History is full of examples in which complicity led to horrendous outcomes, but in today’s global marketplace, complicity involving bad business decisions comes at a great cost.

In his new book, Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop, Professor Max Bazerman of Harvard Business School focuses on Purdue Pharma’s knowledge of OxyContin’s addictiveness. Bazerman makes the point that many individuals within the organization knew about the drug’s likely effect on users but remained silent. They were complicit, and the outcome of their inaction has been disastrous to the public and costly to Purdue Pharma’s image and bottom line.

Human beings, Bazerman says, are prone to go along with transgressions made by others. However, consumers expect corporations to behave responsibly, so leaders and individuals must stop such misconduct before it can wreak havoc.

First comes understanding the nuances of complicity. There are “true partners,” or those who agree with the unethical values being perpetrated, and “collaborators,” who acquiesce for personal gain although they may not believe in the wrongdoer’s acts.

Examples of collaborators are not hard to find. Film industry personnel who witnessed women being harassed by men and did not intervene, Germans who did not believe in Nazism but remained silent, and the US Olympic Committee, which was aware that coach Larry Nasser was sexually abusing female athletes but kept him on. Similarly, working for a company when knowing that the organization is consciously destroying the environment can be viewed as an act of complicity.

Bazerman spells out strategies organizations can employ to create a workplace in which people feel safe to speak up when they witness wrongdoing. These include adding more decision-makers to avoid tunnel vision and implementing systems in which groups of people can freely protest unethical behavior.

Nevertheless, Bazerman contends, the bottom line is to be clear about one’s own ethical code and ask questions such as, Do I want to live with the fact that I could have done something when I saw XX being sexually harassed but didn’t? or Do I want to be part of an elitist system that promotes discrimination? or Do I want to work for a company that is contributing to environmental or human rights violations?

Being on the side of what is right and good is ultimately a personal choice, but it can impact an organization’s bottom line, too.

Discussion

  1. How can complicity with an unethical policy affect a company’s image when that complicity is made public?
  2. How might diversity reduce complicity in the workplace?
  3. What possible ramifications face an employee who speaks up about an organization’s wrongdoing?

Source: Reynolds, P. (2022, November 15.) Stop ignoring bad behavior: 6 tips for better ethics at work. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. Retried from https://hbswk.hbs.edu

Employers Are Tracking Remote Workers. Have They Crossed a Line?

Since employees left the office and began working from home, employers have struggled with measuring productivity, wanting to know just how much workers are actually working. Many have started using technologies that allow them to see what workers type, to read employee e-mails, and to actually watch employees using a computer’s camera.

The application of such technology has doubled since the pandemic sent workers home. Prior to the virus halting business as usual, about 30 percent of employers used some type of monitoring technology. Today, 60 percent of large employers track workers to some degree. And the type of monitoring has changed from a simple badge swipe that shows when employees come and go to always-on activity-tracking tools. Some firms even use video analytics to measure facial expressions during meetings to determine which employees make the biggest contributions.

The tracking crosses industries. Some radiologists are being compared to their colleagues using “inactivity” time measures. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority told some staff they could work from home only if they agreed to being monitored the entire workday. From architects to lawyers to academic administrators, professionals are being surveilled.

Workers are not pleased and feel their employers do not trust them. They say the surveillance discourages the valuable back-and-forth between colleagues that often leads to innovation.

The most common complaint is that tracking measures do not accurately capture offline activity. As an example, a finance executive was docked pay when she was doing math problems on paper, reading printouts, and thinking. Such instances lead to the disquieting conclusion that at least some white-collar workers are being paid only if surveillance tracking tools consider their activities actual “work.”

Nevertheless, employers say the monitoring allows them to manage more fairly, and that it helps them weed out shirkers and reward hard workers. They point to how the surveillance forces productivity by docking pay when workers step away from their work areas.

Critics of the practice say that surveillance systems push employers to focus on the appearance of busyness rather than results, and that some of the tools are more invasive than necessary.

Where to draw the line?

Discussion:

  1. Make an ethical argument in support of employers using employee monitoring technology during regular office hours.
  2. Make an ethical argument against employers using employee monitoring technology during regular office hours.
  3. Is it fair to pay workers only when they are sitting and keyboarding in front of the computer?
  4. At what point do employers step over a line when monitoring employees remotely?

Sources:

Kantor, J. and Sundaram, A. (2022, August 14). The rise of the worker productivity score. The New York Times. https://www.nyt.com

Ziegler, B. (2022, August 20). Should companies track workers with monitoring technology? The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com

Should Executives Take Political and Social Stands?

Whether leaders of companies want to or not, they are going to come head to head with the social and political issues of our day. And if those leaders take the advice of professors from Harvard Business School, they’ll tackle those topics head on.

Professors Henry McGee and Nien-he Hsieh et al. wrote a case study[i] that focused on Apple and its CEO Tim Cook, who has taken a series of bold stands that had the potential of alienating some stockholders. The first came when Apple defied law enforcement and refused to release iPhone user data in 2014. Cook took a moral stance to defend consumers’ basic right to privacy, and a year later said, “We believe that a company that has values and acts on them can really change the world,” adding that stockholders who did not agree should “get out of the stock.”

Since then, Cook has used his outsize name recognition to bring attention to various controversial issues, which in some cases has affected Apple’s operations. This is especially true in China, where Cook’s pro-privacy stance does not mesh with the communist government’s broad use of censorship. Nevertheless, he continues to act as a lightning rod to events of the day, despite controversy.

Writing in the HBS case study, Hsieh pointed out that “even if you [companies and leaders] are not taking a stand on human rights, as Cook has done, you are going to wade into these debates.” In other words, in our hyperconnected world, leaders cannot sit back and avoid hot-button issues. Besides, consumers have come to expect to hear from organizations about their positions on political as well as social matters. “It’s very hard not to get involved and take a stand. There is a growing expectation that companies will do something,” Hsieh says.

Hsieh adds that today’s customers not only expect a company to have a position on social and political issues but that taking a clear position can actually help a company’s bottom line, improve employee morale, and attract customers who feel they can trust the company.

In the same vein, McGee advises leaders to regularly communicate their ideology and values to stakeholders but be ready to adjust positions when consumers challenge an organization’s positions. After all, we all must constantly reassess our positions in life, and an organization’s leader is no exception, McGee says.

Source: Forman, A. (2022, May 26.) Apple vs. feds: Is iPhone privacy a basic human right? Working Knowledge. https://www.hbswk.hbs.edu

Discussion

  1. Do you agree that leaders of companies should inform consumers about their values? Why or why not?
  2. What risks do leaders take when voicing their positions?
  3. Are companies justified in changing their policies or positions to mollify consumers? Why or why not?

[i] McGee, H. and Hsieh, N. (2021, February.) Apple: Privacy vs. Safety (A) and (B). HBS Case Collection.