A friend and executive is put to the loyalty test

What do you do when you know about your friend’s upcoming layoff – and are obligated not to divulge the action?


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Q. I currently hold a management position at a technology company and was made aware of an upcoming layoff of one of our work units. Unfortunately, a close friend is part of that unit and is currently in the process of purchasing a house. I feel a moral obligation to let my friend know of his impending layoff, but also feel that as a member of the management team, I’m held to a higher standard of confidentiality. How do I negotiate this situation?

A. This is a wonderful question that challenges the concept of loyalty to our employers and our friends and co-workers, and the conflicts that occasionally occur. It also raises ethical issues that are very complex, with an answer that will probably still leave you feeling a certain amount of personal struggle.

The bottom line is, you’re right -- as a member of the management team, you do have an ethical responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of this upcoming company change. This may not have been the answer you were hoping to hear, but really just affirms what you already knew was coming.

Keep in mind that this business decision will impact many people, and it’s impossible for you to manage, predict and/or control the challenges and opportunities this will set in motion.

Now what to do about your friend who is about to make a major life decision that, based upon what you think, may be a significant mistake. The truth is, you really don’t know if this would really be a huge mistake or not. In fact, with the right set of circumstances, “not buying” could be an even bigger mistake. One thing I would do is share your angst with your boss. Assure him that you intend to do what’s right, but wondered if she had any ideas about a possible intervention that would make sense for both the company and your friend.

Q. My company is planning a summer team-building exercise aboard a ship where I’m sure that drinks will be flowing. As I am currently in recovery, I would typically opt not to place myself in a situation where I might be tempted to break sobriety. However, I also feel like I would be sending the wrong signal about my willingness to be a team player if I beg out of the obligation. How do I maintain my sobriety and still function as a member of a team that plays as hard as it works?

A. I admire you for your success in recovery, and agree that you need to consider the risks associated with the summer team building planned for your company. It’s extremely important that you get help and support in making this decision from the folks who are supporting and helping you with your recovery process.

If you’re at the state of recovery that this clearly presents significant risks to your sobriety success, I’d explain to my supervisor my concerns and pass on the team building. Having said that, I will offer a few additional thoughts for your consideration.

First, more and more companies are choosing to move away from company-sponsored events where “drinks are flowing.” You might want to have a candid conversation with your boss about your thoughts about “toning” the drinking down. Most companies have already figured this out, and if your company hasn’t, you’d be paving the way for a more responsible, politically correct corporate culture.

Second, could you enlist the help of a co-worker who might also feel the same as you do, and support you by joining your desire to fully participate without risking your sobriety? You don’t have to make a big deal of “no thanks” or “I’m drinking ginger ale,” and I bet you’ll discover that most people don’t really care what you’re drinking.

Q. My company has received some negative press lately. How do I handle this when asked about it? (By the way, some of the negative press is justified.)

A. The “Begin with Yes” approach would suggest that you actually acknowledge the negative press, and if it’s accurate, acknowledge the reality behind the bad press. Then shift the focus to what your company has learned from this experience, and what they’re doing to turn things around.

You can be sure that just about everyone you’ll be talking to is sick to death of the “spin” they hear every night on TV news, and they’ll appreciate your candor and be much more likely to believe the second, more positive part of your response.

These kinds of difficult moments happen to the best of us, and to the best of companies too. People find it easier to shift their attention from the negative to the positive when they believe the individual or company is willing to be honest and transparent about mistakes.

Paul Boynton, president and CEO of The Moore Center, Manchester, is also a personal coach, corporate consultant, motivational speaker, host of the television show and radio show, "Begin with Yes" and author of the book by the same name. His most recent book is “Beginnings – A Daily Guidebook for Adventurous Souls.” He can be reached at beginwithyes@comcast.net .

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