Get Wet! Cause Some Waves! (Or Not… )


Over the course of many decades of governmental work, as well as employment in the private sector and non-profit scene, I have witnessed first-hand and heard, second-hand, of the inherent dangers of saying something that is either unpleasant, reveals corruption, or otherwise is unpopular with the current ‘Powers-That-Be’.

All of which leaves someone wondering whether or not they should forge ahead and say or do something about the matter.

Following are some examples of what co-workers, including bosses, have told me or that I have overheard them tell others. I make some general comments regarding possible ways to deal with such information. By no means is this meant to be comprehensive. Simply, ‘thought-provoking’.

“If you let the boss’s boss know that, it won’t bode well for your future here at the agency.”

What should you do when you learn that your boss is passing off their work onto others? — Well, if those who are doing her/his work are under-qualified, you might want to sit back and let the boss take heat for poor performance. But, you need to figure out whether or not that poor quality will negatively impact someone else. Someone who is ‘innocent’. And, you need to decide whether or not this move will endear you to someone way high up the career-ladder’s ‘food-chain’ or derail your otherwise-promising career.

“Shh… Don’t bring that up…. “

You might be at a meeting and have this almost obsessive urge to bring up a sensitive topic that you know was purposely omitted from the meeting’s agenda. Do you appease the obsession, or do you bite your tongue? — Perhaps you decide to bring up the topic to key personnel, on a one-on-one basis, where meeting minutes are not being recorded. And, folks might be more relaxed, when discussing the matter.

“Some things are better left unsaid.”

Doesn’t this have an ominous tone to it? — Often when I hear this statement, I find myself needing to discern whether or not there is something ‘almost sinister’ going on’ or the very opposite of that: something that really amounts to a hill-of-beans, and can only cause hard/hurt feelings, if made public.

“If it doesn’t impact you, directly, then leave well enough alone.”

Don’t you find yourself thinking about ‘whistleblower material’, when you hear this? — Many times, this is a true warning. Your job is to figure out or know just how true and important the ‘secret’ is. Then, if it is of major import, you need to carefully weigh any risk to your life-and-limb as well as your career. This can be the time when you seek legal counsel. (Outside, legal counsel.)

“Keep that to yourself. Don’t cause waves!”

This could prove to be the opposite of the above statement in terms of importance. — You need to gather more information. Assess the veracity of your source/s. And, perhaps it is time for you to don your best beach attire. And make some big waves! Or, for you to thank the person who gave you the advice and retire to your own little corner of the world.

Yes, the above is a rather simplistic set of examples and responses to some situations that most every career government employee will run into, somewhere along the line.

My goal here is simply to act as a catalyst, hoping that you might begin to assess these situations more carefully than you have in the past. That you will examine your own set of values. Become a better employee. One who doesn’t jump at the opportunity to ‘right every wrong’, without evaluating the situation from a multitude of angles. And someone who, when the situation truly warrants it, is willing to be a hero/heroine.

‘Nuff said.

Russell A. Irving is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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