“Your words and deeds must match if you expect employees to trust in your leadership” – Kevin Kruse
Many years ago at a financial institution I was employed with, a young lady named Sandra requested a short leave of absence to attend to a delicate personal matter. Feeling obligated to explain the purpose behind her leave; she admitted to her manager she was intending to terminate her pregnancy. Now, it goes without saying that when employees entrust leadership with sensitive information they are under the assumption that the leader has an ethical obligation to keep such information confidential. Regrettably, that is not always the case. Much to the dismay of Sandra, her department manager decided to discuss the purpose of her absence with two co-workers. To those she told she gave the typical speech on the importance of not revealing confidential information. This was an obvious attempt to ensure they themselves did not feel compelled to carry out the same transgression she herself was committing.
Regrettably, her instructions fell on deaf ears and soon thereafter; these two individuals were busy passing on Sandra’s private information to other people within in the company. By the time Sandra returned to work, it was common knowledge as to the reason for her nonattendance. Justifiably, she lost all trust in her leader so, she filed a formal complaint with Human Resources who had a conversation with all involved parties. In the end, even though disciplinary action was administered, Sandra came to the conclusion there was not going to be a way to restore her character among her peers. “For every individual who gains influence by spreading rumors, there is a person who must contend with a damaged reputation, interpersonal conflict and hostile relations within the organization” (Grosser, Lopez-Kidwell, Labiance and Ellwardt 2012, p. 52, 56). Not surprisingly, Sandra was beyond appalled and embarrassed that everyone was privy to something so highly intimate and private. Due to the unethical actions of her manager she determined she was unable to remain employed with the company and parted ways soon thereafter. Alas, the breach of trust by her leader proved to be both personally and professionally destructive for Sandra.
One would be hard pressed to find a leader who has not been on the receiving end of confidential information. Maintaining confidentiality is undeniably an essential factor when it comes to fostering trust in relationships. The Academy of Managements’ Code of Ethics Section 2 Privacy and Confidentially details the expectations to safeguard information that is deemed private. Specifically, 2.1.1 states “AOM members must take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality rights of others” (Academy of Management 2006, p.5). Sandra’s manager did no such thing. Once she made the decision to broadcast the motivation as to why Sandra was taking time off, she became negligent in securing her privacy. According to 2.3.1 of the AOM Code of Ethics (2006), the manager has an obligation to notify Sandra to the parameters of her confidentiality and whether or not she needs to inform another party surrounding the circumstances of Sandra’s leave. In this instance, the leaking of her information was not obligatory; it was merely an illustration of unethical conduct.
Leaders not only have a responsibility to preserve confidentiality but also must work to avoid doing harm and to protect a person’s dignity (APA, 2002). This blatant disregard for Sandra’s wishes to not have her conversation made public was in direct violation of the: Beneficence and Nonmalificence, Fidelity and Responsibility and Respect of People’s Rights and Dignity Principles of the APA Code of Ethics. Section 3.04 outlines “psychologists should take reasonable steps to avoid harming their supervisees and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable” (American Psychological Association 2002, p.11). The reason for Sandra’s leave was extremely personal and controversial. It is a topic that can spark a great deal of division between people through judgmental and opposing opinions. The dissemination of her private information caused her to feel that her dignity had been tarnished amongst her co-workers. It was in her opinion an unbearable situation to face day in and out. The uncertainty and insecurity of the constant scrutiny she felt under made it practically impossible to get up and go into work. The stress she suffered proved to be unendurable and thus, she chose to terminate her employment.
Academy of Management. (2006). AOM code of ethics. Retrieved from http://aom.org/About-AOM/Code-of-Ethics.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2002, December). Redline comparison of APA ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct, December 1992 and December 2002. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/92-02codecompare.pdf
Grosser, T. J., Lopez-Kidwell, V., Labianca, G., & Ellwardt, L. (2012). Hearing it through the grapevine: Positive and negative workplace gossip. Organizational Dynamics, 41(1), 52-61.