Cover Feature

The Cost of Success

Surviving in a code-breaking culture

The Perfect Storm

My computer clock read 3:45 p.m. The report was due promptly at 4. “Just send it in as-is,” a peer said in exasperation. “Everyone uses creative math for these reports anyway.” But I never had, and thought I never would, until that afternoon. My manager had sent my program report back to me with some revisions; revisions that disguised unfavorable numbers as something else. To reject those revisions and submit my version to leadership would be tantamount to treason. I would embarrass my manager, possibly lose program funding and potentially find myself out of a job. I was looking temptation squarely in the face. Success and longevity at my job sat on one side of the scale and my integrity and peace of mind as a Christian on the other.

The Code: Concept or Compliance

Once every year, corporations take time (and money) to re-educate their employees about the company’s ethics policies and procedures. Many call it a code of conduct. The code usually covers a gambit of topics, from accepting gifts from clients to boundaries with coworkers. The objectives are to align all employees on the company’s conduct standards and to document each person’s commitment to comply (that’s why we have to sign it every year). The desired result is protection for the company, including its reputation, its employees, its clients and its future.

While the vast majority of employees and managers agree with the concept of the code, compliance tends to be a different story. Justifications for non-compliance can vary, but there is usually one common thread; people simply don’t believe they can be successful without breaking the code… at least once in a while. Whether it’s getting creative with numbers or bribing clients, the driving force is often a belief that the demands of the job can’t be met within the confines of the code.

As a Christian professional, my latest dilemma at work led me to ask, “How can we resist a ‘code-breaking’ culture at work and keep our integrity intact?”

“Whether it’s getting creative with numbers or bribing clients, the driving force is often a belief that the demands of the job can’t be met within the confines of the code.”

Remember Your True Code of Conduct

As faithful professionals, our integrity doesn’t begin with our company’s ethics policies. We answer to the Highest Code from which other codes get their foundation. For example, God commands us to:

  • Do what we have committed to do: “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’… . Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33,37) 
  • Submit to the authority of our employers: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God… Do what is right, and they will honor you."(Romans 13:1,4) 
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) 
  • Don’t steal or lie: “Do not steal. Do not deceive or cheat one another.”            (Leviticus 19:11).

These four scriptures alone sum up most conduct policies. So the next time you sign your annual code of conduct agreement, remember it’s not just your manager who will be holding you accountable.

Nothing Is Hidden… For Long

It is foolish, absolutely foolish, to think we can circumvent conduct policies and get away with it forever. It will eventually come out. Why? One word… omniscience. God knows everything. And as a loving, all-knowing God, He will expose everything we try to hide for the sake of saving us from ourselves. For those who have fallen into unethical practices, let me offer a word of advice: It’s always better to reveal than to be exposed. Confession, in addition to being biblical, places us in control of telling our own story instead of having it told for us. As Proverbs 28:13 instructs, we should be our own whistle-blowers. It’s a faithful practice for relieving the weight of guilt and shame. It also often leads to a surprising outpouring of mercy and understanding from peers, and even managers.

“You want to succeed. You want to excel. But at what cost? Our integrity? Our peace of mind? Our souls?”

To Tell or Not To Tell

This is a tricky one. It’s one thing to be your own whistle-blower, but what about telling on others, including those in management? Most codes of conduct I have seen include a clause about reporting the unethical behavior of others. If we sign it, God expects us to do it. I know this may seem like career suicide in some cases, but try to remember Who’s been holding time and space together since… well… forever. Surely He can keep our careers together too without our “help.”

Allow me to clarify one point. This doesn’t mean we have to be the ethics police at work. God expects us to do our best, to “live a quiet life and mind your own business.” (1 Thess. 4:11). But if God has us in a position where the wrongdoing is right in front of us, it’s because He expects us to do something about it.

Final Thoughts

I get it. You want to succeed. You want to achieve. You want to excel. We all do. But at what cost? Our integrity? Our peace of mind? Our souls? (Mark 8:36). In the by-any-means-necessary culture of the business world, it’s critical that we keep things in proper perspective. Short of medical or public safety professions, most of our careers are not a matter of life and death. So why would we risk our clear conscience before God and man for short cuts to get ahead at the job? Bonuses and promotions come and go, but our souls will live forever. Let’s make sure they’re being properly managed.

Natasha Gboleeweefaa lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her blog, SyncUP, offers guidance on aligning with God's plan for one's life. It can be read at penpadpurpose.com.

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