If you are a parent, you will be familiar with your children using the phrase ‘I’m allowed’. In the workplace, ‘I’m allowed’ can translate into employees rationalising arriving late and leaving early or helping themselves to stationery or any other thing that isn’t tied down and that they feel is a ‘right’ to help themselves to.
At senior levels of an organisation this ‘right’ turns into abusing the company credit card or taking partners on expensive company-funded trips. Suddenly things that are classed as perks that come with the job become things that are taken for granted, and even become no longer enough to satisfy that ‘entitlement’ feeling. And if everyone in that organisation sees one person taking advantage of the perks, then others feel it is their ‘right’ also.
In Australia, a federal opposition leader in the early 1990s made a point of taking taxis everywhere rather than use the chauffeur-driven Commonwealth cars he was supposed to use; he also insisted his staff do the same.
Or consider the auto company CEOs of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors who in 2008 flew to Washington in private jets to ask for taxpayer bail-out money. One politician likened it to seeing someone show up at a soup kitchen in a limousine while wearing a tuxedo.
In New Zealand, a disgraced health board CEO was fired in 2017 after it was discovered he had spent $218,000 of taxpayer money on holidays and attending conferences around the world; this at a time when the health services were struggling to meet the health demands of his region.
And perhaps the worst example of ‘I’m allowed’ has been brought to light at Oxfam where several people at senior levels of the organisation were discovered not only to be using prostitutes during the tragic disasters in Chad and Haiti, but to possibly be abusing some of the young girls they were there supposedly to assist.
How does that sense of entitlement actually happen? How do people become so full of their own importance that they think ripping off a company, country or abusing children during a traumatic event is even remotely okay?
At what point does behaviour cross a line?
A huge part of my consulting would be initiated by a manager or team leader asking for help with a poor performance issue. Their concerns were usually what to say, when to say it, how to say it and what to say if the conversation started to go wrong.
In the case of poor performance of an employee, my recommendation was always to take action when:
At senior levels it is more difficult than that. Who calls out management? Who dobs in their boss? Who has the courage to report a co-worker or someone above them for behaviours that bring the organisation into disrepute? Where do people go when they are pretty sure that something is horribly wrong at a management or even board level?
When people witness inappropriate action, there are several possible reactions.
They may simply turn a blind eye and get on with their own job believing it is none of their business. You could hear them say along the lines of ‘It’s not in my pay grade to challenge behaviours’, or when challenged they may issue the famous ‘I was only following orders’ phrase. They may support and even encourage the action and consciously or subconsciously become enablers. They may leave.
They may become whistle-blowers.
All of these behaviours are expensive, not only to businesses, to a country but ultimately to the people who are hiding behind whatever justification they are using. People who turn a blind eye will be affected by either fear or stress; the enablers cause and encourage bad behaviours to spread; good people leaving your organisation is costly in so many ways; and whistle-blowers, although they can be intimidated and silenced for a while, will ensure the truth comes out.
Who calls out a president?
For the first half of his presidency it seemed that no-one called out Donald Trump. Slowly though, people woke up, stood up and spoke up. The mid term elections in 2018 saw a tidal wave of American people saying ‘enough’ to his behaviours and the behaviours of his administration. Women; people of colour and people of different ethnicities came out in droves to stand for government.
Finally and hopefully, the systems and processes that were put in place by the founding fathers, to ensure presidents and administrations didn’t abuse their power will be reinstated. Finally, the people of America called out poor behaviours.
‘No-one should suffer in silence. Bullies thrive in silence.’ — Ricky Whittle
Ann Andrews CSP. Author, speaker, profiler