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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > What you DON’T do is often more important than what you do – Podcast

What you DON’T do is often more important than what you do – Podcast

November 18th, 2011

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When people talk about careers, jobs and productivity the main focus is almost always about doing — getting things done — being highly productive. I often write on these topics myself. Moving from inaction to action is greatly important, but as with everything in life, there is an opposite or converse side to that advice. Sometimes in your life and your career you will be judged more harshly for those things you didn’t do than for those things you did. Whether a sin of commission or omission, failing to do something important can damage your career much more than doing something that fails.

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It’s not my problem

Too often in our careers, we choose to do nothing about an issue or problem simply to preserve the status quo. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want to cause trouble. We just want to keep our head down, do our work and get paid. Sure, there are times in our lives when the problem really isn’t worth the conflict. Did you find that Joe never feeds the coffee kitty in the break room or Jill takes home a stack of Post-It Notes occasionally? It is socially acceptable to let these offenses slide as the turmoil they would cause would be more damaging than the act itself.

But then there are the big issues — the issues that cannot, or should not be ignored. What do you do then? For most of us, our innate sense of self-preservation kicks in. We ignore the embezzlement that is occurring, the kickbacks, the customer ripoffs and possibly worse. We don’t want to lose our jobs so we simply do nothing, hoping that someone else will do something.

The problem though is that these are not small, social, offenses. These are crimes — usually multiple crimes — and unless you are very, very lucky, those crimes will come to light with or without your action. And once those crimes are discovered, authorities are going to have some very tough questions for you. You are going to be asked why you didn’t report the crimes when you knew they were occurring?  They are going to wonder if you didn’t report the crimes, were you perhaps involved in them in some way. Your inaction has led authorities to wonder, and perhaps prove, that you directly benefited by letting these crimes continue. You might have been simply trying to keep your head down, but you can find yourself directly involved in an investigation that could end your career and may even land you in jail.

What to do?

So what can seem like self-preservation often lands us in the trouble we were trying to avoid the entire time. If we think more deeply about it, reporting criminal behavior is another — and perhaps the best — form of self-preservation. Reporting a crime means that we place ourselves on the correct side of any investigation from the start. We might also find that we are protecting others who also knew and did not report because they were deeply afraid of losing their job. Reporting a crime is never easy, but it is always the right thing to do.

Yes, being a whistleblower can be very difficult and, perhaps, even dangerous. Losing your job can be extremely painful and disrupt your life in many ways, but it will be nothing compared to the destruction of your reputation, even if you don’t go to jail. Reporting a crime might be the most important, and in some cases, most heroic, thing you will ever do in your life. Be ready to stand up when called. Don’t let others be cheated or abused. Stand up for yourself and others just as you hope they will stand up for you.


From a more personal view, failing to report a crime, even a suspected one, makes you culpable for that crime continuing. If you don’t take action others will be harmed and a small part of their harm will rest on your shoulders. By failing to take action, you allowed a con man to continue stealing. By your inaction, you allowed an abuser to continue to abuse. By your willing blindness, you allowed more and more people to be hurt. This can be a heavy burden and we should all feel it as such. Our biggest failures, as individuals and as a people, happen when we do nothing about crime, injustice and abuse.

It may sound cliche, but Edmund Burke had it correct when he said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We have seen this to be true in the world many times over. I call on you to break this cycle and do something when you see the need. You may be afraid for your job, your career or even your life, but you will have failed, both yourself and the world, if you do nothing.


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  1. Michelle
    November 18th, 2011 at 13:13 | #1

    Whether workers will choose to speak against crimes in the workplace in this tough economy will depend on their character. This may be the deal breaker for some employers.

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