Well, it looks as if the NFL may drop the proverbial ball on the whole “deflate-gate” fiasco and no one seems to care. Of course, the official word from the league is that it is investigating allegations that someone may have deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots in a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. Maybe the NFL is investigating, maybe it isn’t. Who knows? Does anyone care?
More concerning to me than the slow response from the league is the muted reaction from the public. The season is over and no one seems to care about it anymore. Some argue that the Pats would have beaten the Colts anyhow, so cheating had no bearing on the outcome. Pats quarterback Tom Brady laughed it off and franchise leadership pretty much said, “There’s nothing to see here, please move along,” which is exactly what many people did.
Is waning interest in deflate-gate symptomatic of a society that has become desensitized to cheating?
Then there’s the more recent example of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who allegedly fabricated a story about having been in a military helicopter that came under mortar attack. NBC investigated, determined it was not true, and suspended Williams for six months without pay. A news anchor from a major network betrayed public trust by repeatedly lying into the camera, and for that he has to sit on the naughty bench and think about it? NBC clearly dropped the proverbial ball. I suspect its executives believe the public attention span is so short that 6 months from now no one will remember that Williams admittedly lied to them. Sadly, they are probably right.
Brady and Williams are not the problem, our collective apathy toward wrongdoing is the problem.
Brady and Williams may be good people, and Brady may be entirely innocent. My point here is not to point fingers at either of these men. Instead, my point is that it wasn’t long ago that public figures caught lying or cheating were shunned by society and held accountable by employers, constituents, and sponsors. Do the names Lance Armstrong and Dan Rather ring a bell? The former was an athlete caught cheating and the latter was a news anchor caught lying. Armstrong immediately lost sponsors and Rather quickly lost his 24-year CBS Evening News career.
Unethical behavior in society and popular culture has made its way into the workplace.
With lying, cheating, and other deviant behavior becoming increasingly tolerated in society and pop culture, leaders are seeing a wave of ethical ambivalence among employees. Leaders must counter this wave and ensure the line separating right from wrong does not become blurred. Otherwise, even good employees may become indifferent to deviance, if not engaged in it, and that would have significant consequences.
There are actions every leader can and should take to counter the threat of ethical ambivalence in today’s workforce, such as establishing and sustaining an ethical tone at the top, making honesty and integrity core values of the organization, adopting and adhering to a strict code of conduct, mandating ethics training for all employees, and making ethical behavior an integral part of the organizational culture. If you are a leader, don’t drop the ball on organizational ethics. Make it a priority!