Issues at Work: Knowing How and When You Should Speak Up


Determining right from wrong in your daily life is simple. Determining that same thing in a professional environment could be more difficult due to lines becoming blurred. If you’ve found yourself in a position where you’ve noticed something a bit fishy, or found misreported company data or a co-worker who leaves work early, you should know how to report it. The question remains: what point do you direct business wrong-doings to your bosses?

Many people might suggest remaining quiet instead of stirring the pot, especially if it’s something that you aren’t sure about. However, some cases cannot and shouldn’t be ignored. You can use this guide to help you know when you need to speak up.

Avoid Letting Yourself Rationalize

A clear indication that you’ve seen something you should report to your boss is rationalization. You might find yourself saying things such as “it wasn’t nearly that bad,” or “it’s not my responsibility or business.” While that might be true, it’s possible that these words you tell yourself are just a way to sweeten up the experience of seeing something you shouldn’t have. Regardless of what you’re saying to yourself, there’s a chance that what you’ve witnessed is worth reporting.

People tend to use a self-defense mechanism to avoid confrontation, which can be highly uncomfortable. Instead of dealing with the problem head on, you might rationalize it in your head to avoid it. Keep in mind that bringing up an issue at work doesn’t need to be a horrible experience, nor do you need to worry about hard feelings between you and the colleague in question.

Small Could Mean Bigger

Concerning business, even the smallest actions could lead to significant implications. If there is a co-worker misreporting data, it might seem like a small mistake, but it can lead to a loss of millions of dollars and even fraud suits. That is a rare and worst case scenario, but it’s something to think of when considering if you should bring the issue to your manager’s attention.

All types of fraud get linked to business, so it’s essential to pay attention. Doctors can get charged with Medicare fraud if they falsify orders for insurance payouts. Financial fraud, however, puts people’s pensions, stock, and more at risk.

When you are considering whether or not you should talk to your boss, think about what else could happen. The possibility of the seemingly small problem being indicative of something more significant could cause issues for you, and the entire company.

Speak to the Person in Question

You might feel that it’s best to speak to someone higher up when you see something you think is wrong, but there could be a chance that you’ve misunderstood the situation. The person in question might not be aware of the way their actions look and having a conversation with them could clear things up, and inspire them to make a note of their behavior and change.

If you choose to speak to the person first, ensure that you do it in the right way and free from judgment. Speak to them in person instead of through email, and prepare your thoughts ahead of time. If you think you might lose your focus, try writing down key points so your intentions, and the problem you witnessed, are clear.

Questions Get Answers

Regardless of how much evidence you have, don’t present it as a statement because doing so could come off as accusatory, which could result in the conversation turning sour. No matter how good your intentions are, escalating the issue could lead to more significant problems.

Asking questions to get the answers you need is what’s recommended. When you ask the person to help you understand why they’re doing something, it’s not only helping you understand their point, but it does so without being accusatory. Ensure that you listen for the rationalizations that you made before thinking about reporting the issue. If you feel that your colleague’s reasons don’t make sense or sit right, it’s best to take things to your higher-ups for investigation.

Know When to Escalate

As mentioned, you might find that you aren’t satisfied with the conversation you had with your co-worker. If you reach that point, you should cut off the discussion and consult with your boss about how things should be handled.

When you speak with your manager, ensure that your tone isn’t accusatory or judgmental. Make a note of the actions and patterns and see how your boss reacts. If you see that they aren’t concerned, you need to decide if their reaction was suitable, or if you need to take the problem to your manager’s boss. If no one is interested in escalating the issue, it’s best to clear the thought from your mind because you did the best you could.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Everything that you witness is up to interpretation whether it’s in your day-to-day life or your professional life. If you see a questionable action, you have to measure out all the pros and cons of bringing it up. Sitting down to speak with your co-worker and possibly your boss could save the business money. It’s critical that you remind yourself that just because someone does things differently than you would do them, doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing their job or are doing something incorrectly.

Your intuition is a reliable indicator. Very rarely are you going to find a hard line that separates right and wrong, so you need to listen to your gut. Use the moral instinct that you’ve grown up with to help you determine what you’ve seen in the workplace, trust how you feel, and go from there. Calling attention to a small problem could be exactly what’s needed to keep it from snowballing into something bigger.


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Issues at Work: Knowing How and When You Should Speak Up

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