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When is it OK to Criticise the Business You Work For?

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Thinking back to last week’s Twitter hack, something that bothered me was the fact that it didn’t seem as though Twitters sysops had expressed any concern about the password used by Crystal, the admin whose login was exploited. Is this because Twitter doesn’t have any security policies? Or is it because they felt that it wasn’t their place to argue?

One day, unless they are very lucky, everyone will do a stint in a company where they marvel at its continuing existence. There are companies that never pay their invoices on time, companies where the boss is incompetenet, drunk or half-asleep most of the working day. And that’s without reference to the kind of companies that offer you one job description, only to have you running around fixing other people’s mistakes when you actually start.

The various global financial failures have also given rise to this question: why didn’t anyone say anything? The fact is, as employees, would-be whistleblowers may be worried about losing their jobs, or becoming the poster child for a massive corruption scandal. So is there ever a right time to stick your head above the parapet and call shenanigans on your employers?

First – and this is very important – you need to make sure that those in a position to remedy the situation have been made aware of it. Outline your concerns in writing, both to your line manager and to their superiors. If you are setting out the problems in an email, ensure that you CC rather than BCC the recipients. You want to be sure that everyone reading the email can see who else might be reading it. Maintain a professional and impartial attitude; focus on how delays in dealing with the issues at hand may affect the bottom line. That, after all, is what matters most.

Don’t expect to be thanked. Nobody enjoys having their failings pointed out to them, and bosses are the worst for this. Expect to encounter obsfucation, excuses and justification. Nevertheless, you must persevere. Follow up your email with requests for meetings, whether formal or informal face-to-face events. Again, state your concerns objectively, with a focus on how a better system could improve profitability. The worst they can do is tell you that you are operating outside the remit of your job description.

Finally, if you are still making no progress, threaten to go public. You must give your managers advance warning, however. This may spur them into the action that they had hoped to put off. If they take no remedial action, however, you are fully justified in taking your grievances public. You don’t necessarily need to take out full-page adverts in the national press; simply ensuring that opinion-makers know of the problems within the company will suffice. But ensure that you have an exit strategy.

Prepare to be sacked. You may or may not communicate confidential company information, but your bosses will be seeking revenge. Prepare yourself for the worst: you have made them look bad, and their egos need reassurance. If your contract lays out formal disciplinary procedures, make sure that they are followed to the letter. If you don’t have a formal contract, make sure that your contacts list is up to date and that you have several useful numbers primed.

There are a number of things that can be done when a business finds itself up a certain creek without a paddle, and you can be the instigator for change. Remember, though, that change is the thing that scares many businesses the most, and they will not thank you for pointing out their failings.

[Image by Dhammza]

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