A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





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March 1, 2002

In the end...

© 2002, Douglas E. Welch

Regardless of how the current Enron debacle works out, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose lives and careers will be directly affected by it. Worse yet, it appears that a small portion of these people will have brought on their own demise through a variety of unethical, if not illegal activities. If you take anything away from the Enron situation, now and in the future, remember this…small actions on your part can have dramatic effects on you and those around you.

Trouble Rolls Downhill

One sad fact that will almost certainly arise will be the scapegoating of front line workers. It is a simple truth of human nature that all blame rolls downhill, and executives will be quick to pass off any blame they can. Perhaps it was the assistant who actually did the shredding, not the executive. How long is it before some executives use that fact as an alibi in order to exonerate them from any wrongdoing? Suddenly someone who was "only following orders" finds himself or herself in front of a Congressional subcommittee.

I use this as an example in order to reflect on how much damage the average high-tech worker could do with the click of a mouse. Instead of standing over a shredder for hours, one click and drag can render years of data unrecoverable. Do you want to be responsible for the destruction of evidence? This should give you pause the next time you are asked to remove old data from a file server, or format an existing computer for a new user.

If you don’t believe that an action is correct, challenge it. Don’t let yourself become just another witness in a courtroom. Try and do something about it before your entire company self-destructs. More importantly, do what is best for you. Even if you can’t save the company you can at least try to save yourself.

Just say no

I am very interested in hearing the stories of lower level Enron employees to gain some insight into why they didn’t question certain activities. At least a few executives had reservations and yet, someone stood at the shredder for hours, even though they probably knew the company was undergoing a Federal investigation. What drives people to do something they know to be wrong? The biggest reason is probably fear.

There comes a time in every career, sometimes multiple times, when you as an employee need to say "No!" You need to use your best judgment when you are asked to do something you feel is illegal or unethical. Some of you might say, "But I need to keep my job to survive." You will find, though, that engaging in illegal or unethical behavior can have effects far beyond the loss of your job. Actions like this can lead you down a far darker road.

Imagine, again, the worker bees at Enron. I can imagine they were worried about losing their jobs and used this as an excuse to do things that they knew were wrong. What will become of them now, though? Instead of losing one job they might end up criminally liable in a federal prosecution. Do you think anyone will want to hire these people in the future? If you think it is tough finding a job today, imagine if you had a Federal indictment hanging over your head, Grand Jury dates to attend and legal fees that could bankrupt even the biggest Enron executives. No matter what, losing your job is preferable, by far, to losing your entire career. In the worst cases you might lose any ability to make a living at all.

I have mentioned in previous columns that you need to look out for yourself in any work environment. You can be guaranteed that Enron executives were doing what was best for them over the last few years, even to the detriment of everyone else in the company. You owe it to yourself to not become a scapegoat for some large failure that originated far outside your sphere of influence. Standing up to unethical and illegal behavior is frightening and you might even feel stupid at the beginning, but you may find that you are saving not only your career, but the careers of those around you.

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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