Do you speak up on the job? Or do you keep your head down? While you might quietly believe something going on is wrong do you prefer to just keep doing your job and let The Others deal with it? Most people do, I think.
A manager of mine once made the remark, “we’re all responsible for our own eco-systems”. I think she was fed up with the griping about the senior management team. And she’s right, I think. Our work is such a vital part of our life (it’s called a livelihood with good reason!) that we hesitate to rock the boat. Yet in my experience, not speaking up, not rocking the boat, will ultimately exact its own price.
The price could be your health.
The price could be your coworker who gets taken down. (Which at first may seem like a relief, * phew! It wasn’t me *, but once they are gone … who is left? What will the fall out be and how will it affect you? Because it will.)
The price could be the company itself.
This is on my mind particularly today because of news I hadn’t heard earlier which affects pretty much all of us.
Follow this trail with me:
The global financial crisis that has us bouncing around? That was triggered by the sub-prime mortgages debacle?Those sub-prime mortgage investment bundles were given AAA status by S&P and other ratings agencies.
They should not have been. (HELLO).
Apparently S&P staff analysts would challenge the ratings given by S&P to various investments and companies, but their managers would x-nay those challenges, and it’s thought that was because the managers didn’t want to piss off those companies, who were paying them for the ratings.
End result: Pension Funds, Banks, Mutual Funds and individuals bought those sub-prime-mortage ridden investment bundles under the impression that they were AAA quality. And we know what happened. The whole western world is teetering.on.the.brink.
It’s not hard to imagine how it could have played out in the cubicles.
One nerdy math-y person, James, does the spreadsheets and the numbers just don’t add up. In fact, they’re kinda damning. So he quietly goes into his boss’s office, “uhh, boss? ” and the boss hears James out, but is secretly irritated because he knows what his own boss, the Director, is going to say and he just doesn’t want to deal with it. Nevertheless, in a low-key way he presents the findings to to the Director who as predicted shrugs it off and tells the boss that they need to rate it AAA.
So the boss does, because he’s a chain-of-command kinda guy, and James is somewhat disgusted but he’s not one to make a fuss so he doesn’t. But his stomach starts to kinda hurt, even as he rationalizes his higher-ups decisions.
Down the hall, same thing happens to Sarah. Over lunch one day, James and Sarah get to talking and find out the same thing happened to Mike on the floor above. It doesn’t feel very good.
Word gets out. They all respond differently. Most just don’t want to think about it that much and they have a lot of other work on their desks to think about anyway. Some are disillusioned but they want the paycheque. Some shift the blame “upstairs” and don’t think about it anymore at all. And some … some are weasels who are more interested in their careers than their team so they just keep their ear to the ground and relay that info up the chain in the hopes that they will become part of the club upstairs (and lo and behold, some do).
And then there was Chris. Chris had seen the movie before and was fed up so he spoke just a little more loudly. And argued a little more with his boss. And didn’t let it rest. And it embarrassed his boss. And his name started being spoken of upstairs. And then one day … he was gone.
Message received. Message received by James, Sarah, Mike and all the others who had flagged that there might be a problem with giving AAA ratings to investments that in fact were set up for disaster. Message received that their livelihoods were at stake. Message received that their company was not in fact a place of neutral ratings, but was set up to ensure profits and bonuses for the people upstairs, the ones who held the analysts’ livelihoods in their hands.
They got it.
I don’t know how they (in this imaginary, for the record, world) reacted when things went all to hell. Did they lose sleep? Did they justify it to themselves (I imagine I would)?
For every Chris in different organizations, there must be, what, 250 folks who are passively or actively complicit?
Senior VP of Finance at Lehman Brothers pushed back over their accounting “gimmicks” in 2008 and lost his job. I don’t believe it was coincidence that he was downsized, do you?
Joseph Kus has something to say about Merrill Lynch’s breaches of FSA regulations. It sounds like his coworkers not only kept their heads down, but actively hounded him for his audacity.
My point? There is a cost to you and me, down the road, when we don’t speak up. When we look at our ricocheting portfolios or when our property values plummet, remember the folks to tried to speak up. Remember their coworkers who looked the other way because that was easier. And then consider your own workplace and those who attempt, perhaps with finesse or perhaps in a bungling-it-up way, to speak up. Are you supporting them?
Photo Credit: Truthout