A father who had been laid off from his job had been watching expenses closely for months.  But he’d made a promise to his two sons – twins – that he’d take them to a nearby amusement park to celebrate their 10th birthday.

When the day came, the father withdrew some money from his savings, and he took his two sons on the bus to the amusement park. When they reached the front gate, he saw a sign:

“General admission: (ages 10 and up) $10.  Children under 10:  $5.”

If he’d come a day earlier, the father realized, he could have saved $10 – $5 for each of his twin sons.  But with a sigh he led the boys up to the ticket window and said, “Three general admission tickets, please.”

The woman in the booth looked them over and smiled.  “How old are you boys?”

“I’m 10 years old today,” said one son.

“So am I,” said the other.  “We’re twins!”

The woman leaned forward.  “You know,” she whispered, “you could have asked for two ‘Under 10’ tickets, and I never would have known.”

“Yeah,” said the father, “but they would have.”

Why do so many executives and employees apparently go along with blatantly unethical and illegal conduct in their organizations?  The answer may be that people don’t always know what to do when confronted with requests (or demands) that aren’t on the straight and narrow.  But that’s not a good enough answer.  Organizations need to be completely clear and specific about what is acceptable and what is expected.

Here are some suggestions on how to respond when someone in your organization asks you to do something unethical:

  • Explain your concern.  Tell the other person how you feel.  Use “I” statements that describe your position without attacking the other person:  “I have some reservations about that plan because . . . ”
  • Offer an alternative.  Chances are there’s an honest way to accomplish the same goal or a similar one.  Concentrate on that, emphasizing your common interests:  “We both want to make more money on this product, and I think we can do it better by cutting some less-important features than by using cheaper materials.”
  • Go upstairs if necessary.  This should be a last resort, but if the other person insists on behaving unethically, you’ll have to protect the company – and yourself – by discussing the matter over with a trusted superior.

Careful hiring can often help avoid problems from the outset.  I have found a very reliable method that we use at MackayMitchell Envelope Company to supplement our usual background screening process called the Merchants Integrity Test, developed by Merchants Information Solutions.  The Merchants Integrity Test  will help you reduce the number of criminal records you are required to review under the new EEOC guidelines.  Using this test will speed up the hiring process and keep you in compliance, without reducing the scope of your candidate review.

It is a self-admitting “overt” test that has been validated and adheres to non-discriminatory standards required by the EEOC.  In fact, their website identifies integrity testing as an acceptable pre-employment screening tool, especially effective in identifying applicants with a propensity to commit employee theft.  The Merchants Integrity Test is proven to identify applicants who are engaged in employee theft, have a high level of hostility which can spill over into workplace violence, abuse drugs and alcohol and other high risk behavior.

Honesty is always the best policy.  You must be able to trust the people you work with.

The king visited his dungeon once a year to talk to the prisoners there.  Every year, each inmate insisted that he or she was the picture of innocence:  They’d all been framed, or treated unfairly at trial, or victims of circumstances, or otherwise completely free of all guilt.  Not one had a dishonest bone in their body.

One year, the skeptical king asked the newest prisoner in the dungeon, “I suppose you’re as innocent as a lamb, too?”

This man shook his head sadly.  “No, Your Majesty.  I’m a thief.  I was caught fair and square, and my sentence was just.”

The king blinked in surprise.  “Release this man!” he proclaimed, and the thief was promptly set free.

The other prisoners began shouting.  “Your Majesty, how can you do such a thing?  How can you free a confessed criminal while we rot in here?”

“I’m doing you a favor,” the king said.  “I can’t risk leaving that evil scoundrel in here to corrupt all your innocent souls, could I?”


Mackay’s Moral:  Corporate integrity begins with personal integrity.

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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