Conflicting interests in the workplace can seem natural, innocent, and even trivial; but they create an environment of unfairness that can damage not only our organization’s reputation, but the jobs of those involved as well!
Unless you hide under your desk all day, the odds are that you interact with your co-workers. You’ve probably even made social connections with these co-workers. After all, it’s easy to become close to those you spend 8 hours a day, week after week. You might go hiking with some on the weekends or just take coffee breaks as a group.
Making social connections around the office is natural, but what if you are promoted to a position where you manage these same people? What happens when it’s time to fill out performance reviews, create work schedules, or approve time off? Will your loyalty to them affect your decisions? And how will these decisions be seen by others?
Suddenly your social connection has created a conflict of interest that puts you and our organization at risk. Real or perceived, your motivations can be questioned, create gossip, frustration, or even claims of discrimination. If not disclosed and professionally reconciled, your conflict of interest could jeopardize your position or even lead to legal consequences.
So how do you avoid conflicts of interests? Put yourself into some examples and see how your behavior might be impacted by conflicted interests:
- You’re friends with the scheduling manager, who prioritizes your requests for time off over other employees. Is this favoritism?
- You work for your uncle’s company and receive pay, promotion, and benefits that other employees do not. Is this fair?
- You contract with your brother-in-law’s construction company to handle the building’s maintenance. Is this what’s best for the organization?
- You start a side business that provides similar services as those you perform at work. Are you competing and using knowledge taken from our organization?
- You’ve recently broken off a romantic relationship with a subordinate co-worker, and now you’ve been instructed to transfer him to another department. Is this because of his job performance or because of your break-up?
- You accept a gift from a client in exchange for preferential treatment. Is this ethical?
Everyone is responsible for complying with our code of ethics for handling conflicts of interest. You are responsible to:
- Disclose: Never hesitate to explain a potential conflict of interest with your manager.
- Report: If you feel that a conflict of interest is affecting the behavior of a co-worker, report it to your manager or to HR.
- Recuse: If you are presented with a decision in which a conflict of interest could be seen as impacting the outcome, it’s your obligation to recuse yourself from making the decision. This act ensures an impartial decision and protects the credibility of everyone involved.