How Silence and Censorship Can Enable Workplace Corruption

Jill McMahon - Wednesday, June 08, 2016
How Silence and Censorship Can Enable Workplace Corruption

While workplace corruption can take many forms, it can also exist in silence and censorship. A corrupt group of workers may keep silent about their activities, or they may impose silence or censorship on others to ensure that their conduct is not reported. 

This makes corruption very difficult to detect, and it also leads to other issues such as workplace bullying and worker safety. 

How does it happen?

Workplace corruption can be very effective when perpetrated by a group of workers. Once a group is operating within a workplace, they can cover up their own activities and insist on the silence of others. This is often closely linked to bullying.

The activity may be concealed by the attitude ‘this is how we do things around here’.

Employees may be pulled into a web of corruption because the behaviour is seen as normal, fear of bullying or the desire to be accepted by the corrupt group. If left unchecked, it can be a cycle that becomes entrenched. 

Why does it happen?

In addition to the pressures that can be applied by a corrupt group, there may be other issues at play when an employee is silenced or censored, and they may occur well before the corruption becomes apparent. 

Organisations naturally depend on employee input to improve services and efficiency. But sometimes employees don’t feel that they can speak up. 

There may be a range of contributing factors to this, including fear that:

  • Any suggestions for change will be viewed as a personal criticism of the manager or boss.
  • Any suggestions for change must fully solve the problem and strong evidence of this is needed before the employee has the right to speak up.
  • Any suggestion will be viewed as insubordination or embarrassing to the boss or manager.
  • There may be retribution or negative career consequences for speaking out. 

According to an article in the US Journal of Organisational Behaviour, there is also evidence that reluctance by employees to speak out may result in stress and depression, poor job satisfaction and lowered commitment to the job and organisation.

From here, it’s a slippery slope to corruption. 

The spiral into corruption

Just think. An employee, Dave, notices that five colleagues take petty cash on a daily basis to buy their lunch. It doesn’t appear to be sanctioned by the company. As the colleagues are good mates with the manager, Dave is concerned that telling the manager would create trouble for him. Dave worries that going to the manager’s manager would be seen as insubordinate, and in any event, he doesn’t have a bulletproof suggestion for how to fix the problem. He thinks the company is losing around $300 per week in petty cash.

As a result of his concerns, Dave chooses to say nothing and becomes increasingly stressed that if the employees get caught, he’ll be blamed for not speaking up. He’s also scared that he will be bullied as he’s seen this happen to another worker. Dave keeps quiet and by his silence, acquiesces in the corruption. 

How to stop it from happening

In our previous articles on corruption, we have canvassed a number of ways to stop the practice from spiralling out of control. 

More: Corruption and Deviant Behaviour in the Public Sector.

Building stronger relationships with employees can also go a long way towards keeping things in check.

Managers and supervisors can: 

  • Encourage employees to speak up when they see something that can be changed.
  • Reward suggestions for change.
  • Talk honestly to employees about the desire to have their input and how those strategies might be implemented.
  • Tell employees that they want to know what they observe and keep in touch with employees about the progress of their suggestions for change. 

Silence and censorship of employees as a means to cover-up corruption is a well-used strategy that means that organisational corruption remains difficult to detect. But organisations that adopt a “grassroots” approach by encouraging employees to participate in organisational improvements may find that they have developed an effective means of preventing and detecting corruption. 

WISE Workplace has much experience in developing such strategies. Call us today to discuss your options. 

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