How to deal with the label Whistleblower

noun: whistleblower :
a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity.
 
Many people assume that “whistle blowing” is associated with high level governmental and corporate corruption. Images appear in our Hollywood fuelled imaginations of dubious, clandestine meetings held in underground car parks in the dead of night, with individuals wearing Dick Tracy style trench coats and fedoras.
 
 
Although most of us have seen movies and read about these situations, the average employee possibly doesn’t encounter breaches of integrity in exactly this way. Most are far more prosaic and pedestrian. But the issues still prey on our consciences.
 
 
How does someone cope when the organisation they work for and its leadership seems to have lost its moral compass?  Many struggle when they have a livelihood to protect not knowing how far to pursue the situation within the hierarchy of their own company, when to leave and when to report these incidents to the authorities. How then do they deal with the questioning in interviews and the labels of “troublemaker” or “crusader?”
 
 
 
When less is more
 
Questioning on reasons for leaving a previous job is normal. Wanting to work in an organisation which is aligned with our core values is also normal and a perfectly acceptable response to any questioning. It is at the core of any personal branding work. To respond in exactly this way, pre-supposes that any previous company was not meeting those values well, or even at all. There is no need to be overtly negative. This another case when less is probably more.
 
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3 case studies

Simon was a hi-po marketing and innovation specialist working in the petro-chemical industry. He reported his company to the authorities when he came across evidence of bribery and corruption. He was “counselled out” and fears he has been blacklisted within the sector, as 8 months later he is still on the job market. 

Martina, a junior tax accountant with a law background, highlighted some accounting discrepancies to her senior management and found herself suddenly moved to another division and location, with access to the files withdrawn. Unsure what she had uncovered, and having seen what she perceived to be “other grey areas” she decided to leave. She feels she is quizzed in detail in interviews about her reasons for leaving and wonders if she is being judged as a “trouble-maker.”

 Joel left his company after acting as a witness for an ex-colleague in an internal bullying and harassment enquiry. The case against his boss was eventually dropped and he was re-instated. He is also questioned about his actions.

 
 
Cultural fit 
If any organisation perceives a person with a high level of integrity to be a potential “troublemaker” then the cultural match is not right. Walk away and continue the job search. There is value to being a whistleblower and that is being seen as a person of integrity. 
 
If there is a pattern of similar issues then there is a likelihood of being labelled as a “crusader”, which is quite different. But even that would also suggest that the cultural fit is not right. If you have a mission for exposing corporate wrong doing then there should be other more appropriate avenues to explore and its important to carry out the basic reflection about core values. A pacifist may struggle to work for a company supplying the military for example. A non drinker may not want to work for a company producing alcohol.
 
Job search research should be thorough and it would be wise to be more focused when targeting organisations. Vigilance is also needed about selecting the right boss. The interview process is a two-way street which many forget. Some would even say the right boss is more important than the company.
 
 
 
Making sure that a company or boss has values that are aligned with your own is important in any interview process and difficult to establish. From that point onwards compromise maybe necessary and only the individual can know what their own limits are.
 
 
What would you do if your values were tested?

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