Friday, November 17, 2006

Personal Morality vs. Business Ability

Would it matter to you if you knew, beyond any doubt, that your direct supervisor was cheating on his wife with another employee at the company? Would it make you more or less inclined to work there? What impact would it have on your confidence in his or her decision making ability or authority to lead the company?

Would it matter more or less if instead of it being your direct supervisor, it were instead the CEO of the company? What if the CEO didn't even work at your office, but in another state, for example?

Would it matter more or less if instead of a boss figure, it were someone below you in rank? Say, someone who reported to you? Would you trust them more or less with the work you've given them?

What if instead of infidelity it were some other moral failing, like what if they hated black people, for instance?

I don't have a point here, I honestly don't know what to think about those issues. How much, if at all, should someone's personal life influence our confidence in their ability to run a business? Should I care that the baker down the street likes to be tied to the bed and spanked? Does it make his buns less tasty? OK, maybe that's not the best example ...

Anyway, I'm curious what the ones of people reading this think about the issues. And no, this isn't a "real" issue -- it's just a hypothetical. Neither I nor anyone I work with or know in any way is sleeping around.


The Evil DM said...

When It's business I leave it alone. We spend 8 hours a day with our co-workers and sometimes we tend to think we know them. the truth is we don't. The "nice guy" at work may go home every night and beat his kids regularly. The "office flirt" may have issues with insecurity that she is working through with a therapist. I work in Human Resources - divorce situations, custody battles, office romances, terminal illnesses come across my desk every week. often there is more to the story than what you heard in the breakroom. my take at work is -I'm here to put food on the table for my family. I will be civil, courteous, and in some cases even friendly (to a point) but unless someone is referring to me as that "Wetback in HR" I leave it alone.

In my personal life it's another story. My wife had a co-worker who she had become friends with. We used to go out with the girl and her husband from time to time to comedy clubs or taking our kids to the park. one day she told my wife she was having an affair with a guy at her work. It really put us in a dilema. on one hand I aint no saint, I regrettably had an affair with a married woman in my younger days when I was single- so far be it from me to preach to her. but on the other hand I would have a hard time hanging out with this couple pretending that I had no idea what she was doing. Plus it was a constant "in your face" reminder of the worst turn a marriage can take. the result is we just stopped hanging out with them. It was just a situation my wife and I didnt want in our lives.

Geopoet said...

My take on these things is that I only get concerned if it interferes with work or the workplace, or affects relationships with a client. Sometimes even that is difficult to gauge, so every situation I have to look at individually.

On the other hand, I have to admit that when I know about serious lapses in judgement in people's personal lives, it often does make me question whether their judgements at work may be at risk too. People are SO complicated, and the facts are rarely all known, so I try to be very hesitant to cast stones, especially knowing my own faults. However, I also have to remind myself that it's irresponsible to "let people off" in a sense simply because I'm a scumbag myself if the lack of action may adversely affect a lot of other people. Bracketing morality in the context of quality and standards of work helps keep things a little bit less "preachy" I suppose.

Gossip is one example; I had an excellent Ph.D. chemical engineer who did great work, but she gossiped so much about everyone that it disrupted what we were tryng to do as a team, and it affected productivity. I told her I didn't care what she said about people once she's away from work, but this was disruptive. That's kinda easy. Then I had a guy who I knew was fooling around on his wife and drinking too much away from work, but his work was top quality. When it came time to promote him, I had some real reservations and it was difficult to be unbiased because he needed to be on top of his game for that job and I knew all too well where this thing was heading. His wife was also a client of ours. Gets complicated. (he ended up in real trouble later and I'm glad I didn't promote him after all, but I had no way of being sure at the time).

Another example; how should we look at Bill Clinton having oral sex in the Presidential Oval Office? Many said it was only a personal thing and has no effect on the job; others said such disdain for the office showed a deep character and morality flaw that merited real concern when it came to much more important matters of using his judgement for national issues. So, I tend to think we shouldn't get sidetracked on whether we're hyprocrites or being too "religious" or judgmental (our flaws aren't the issue), rather we have every right to question what it says about a person's ability to do what's necessary for the welfare of others (including us!). Of course later he was convicted on lying about it, so how do you treat a superior who lies? Which sin is greater - the blow job (a religious issue) or the lying (against criminal code)? Which one(s) should concerns us, versus which are none of our business?

Overall, I do agree with evil dm that when it's purely a personal issue (doesn't affect workplace or clients) the best course of action is still just to steer clear of unethical or immoral situations - the collateral damage is all too lethal when people are drowning and have no desire to swim.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with both DM and Geopoet. If it's a personal matter, I steer clear, but I'm morally wary of them -- not condemning -- just disappointed. If it's a cheater I work with (as I have many times), my reasoning is if they would cheat on the person they sleep with every night, what would they do to me in the business world where we're simply colleagues? If they're a liar and a cheat in their personal life, then they'll be a liar and a cheater at work. I'm not painting them as Lucifer here, just that they have a problem following the basic concepts of morality. And, like Geo, I'd have a tough time promoting someone like that. I've known plenty of people who cheat on their spouses; some regret it, some are just so lonesome, they turn away from their vows. The older I get, the more I see both sides where I didn't when I was younger. But my opinion of them is forever altered. And I totally agree with DM's point about the friendship -- my mother told me once not to bring friends like that into my marriage. She said to find people with a solid, strong marriage and you'll learn how they do it by watching them. As always with my mom, good advice.

Ed Darrell said...

One of the questions to ask is how these things affect work. An affair in the office is disruptive -- which is why the Clinton staff got Monica Lewinsky out of the White House -- but affairs not in the office may not be disruptive. Goethe believed great people were more sexually active, and acted on that belief. How did it affect his work?

Other ethical issues are more serious, I think. What about a colleague who filches minor things -- another colleague's stach of Snickers bars, coffee from the coffee room, copies. Odds are high other things might disappear.

I like to use the Scout Law test: If the person is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, I figure they are good to work with.

Jeff Hebert said...

Good comments everyone, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You've given me lots to think about, I appreciate it very much.