Grey matters ethical dilemma: Most likely to ...

This Grey Matter, concerning inappropriate workplace ‘banter’ over social media, is one of the scenarios discussed at the CISI’s 2020 Annual Integrity Debate, held at Plaisterers’ Hall on Wednesday 12 February, and broadcast via live webcast

Bookings for the Annual Integrity Debate will be open from Monday 6 January 2020

Freddie has recently joined an investment firm. It’s his first job, and he is eager to integrate himself within the team. Everyone he works with is really friendly and regularly socialise and build friendships which extend beyond the workplace.

One Friday evening, after work, Freddie and a number of his colleagues head to the local pub for a drink. They occupy their ‘usual’ table, and strike up conversation. Freddie’s line manager, Samantha, offers to buy a round for the group – saying she’s impressed at the hard work they’ve all put in during the week, and the drink is a ‘thank you’ for their efforts. Samantha has been at the firm for 12 years, and is regularly praised as a manager for the way she thanks and values her team, so this is not an unusual gesture. She leaves her mobile phone on the table while she heads to the bar.

The pub is busy, and Samantha has a large order to place, so she is away from the table for some time. Her phone is constantly lighting up with incoming messages, and Freddie is sitting right next to it. He tries not to look, as he doesn’t want to pry, but the bright light from the phone is very distracting, and he can’t help but glance at it from time to time. Most of the messages seem to be coming from a WhatsApp group called ‘MOST LIKELY TO …’.

Messages come in suggesting staff members who are ‘most likely to’ in a number of categoriesAt one point, Freddie notices his own name flash up on the screen. The message says, “Most likely to quit when the pressure gets too much … FREDDIE (I give him three months)”, and has been sent from one of his teammates who is not at the pub. Immediately after, another colleague responds “No way! Freddie is tougher than you think … JANINE is waaaaay more fragile”. Freddie glances over at Janine, another young team member who has recently taken some leave to attend her grandfather’s funeral, and is completely oblivious to what’s going on. Over the course of a few minutes, messages come in suggesting staff members who are ‘most likely to’ in a number of categories, including: get drunk at the Christmas party, get pregnant, get fired, not make bonus, get the biggest bonus, get caught with cocaine, pull a sickie, hit on the 18 year-old intern, have a nervous breakdown, and be late for the next team meeting. The people sending the messages are a mixture of staff members from different teams, and include young and old staff members, men and women, people of different ethnicities and different levels of seniority. Freddie notices, with disappointment, that one of the people in the group is Dan – a particular friend of his who started at the firm around the same time. At one point, Freddie takes out his own phone and surreptitiously takes a photo of Samantha’s phone with all the notifications from this group clearly visible.

At that point, Samantha comes back from the bar and starts handing out drinks. Freddie, gathering his courage, asks her what the ‘MOST LIKELY TO …’ group is. She doesn’t seem at all worried, and replies, “It’s just a bit of a joke, don’t take it too seriously.” Freddie, however, insists that it’s not OK, and Samantha responds reassuringly, saying “Alright, if it means that much to you – and I can see you’re upset – I’ll tell everyone to stop. I was never that involved anyway, and I have the group muted most of the time.” At that point, another colleague changes the subject and makes a joke, and Freddie laughs along, not wanting to ruin the positive atmosphere.

Next day, though, Freddie regrets ‘laughing along’ and thinks he could have done more. But what?

  1. On reflection, it’s a bit of a laugh and saying something more will only make it worse. Also, Freddie is keen not to ruin his relationship with his line manager.
  2. Freddie resolves to encourage Samantha to tell HR about the group, as it’s clearly unacceptable.
  3. Freddie should report the group to HR, using the photo he took on his own phone as evidence.
  4. Freddie could encourage Dan to report the group to HR (either with Freddie, or on his own) – using the argument that it would be better to be the person that confesses rather than the person who gets caught.

This dilemma appears in the January 2020 print edition of The Review. The CISI's opinion and voting results will be published in the May 2020 print edition of The Review
Published: 16 Dec 2019
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