I’ve got a professional dilemma; how do I resolve it?

Workplace problems – particularly those of an ethical nature – can be very tricky to tackle. They can cause worry, stress or even legal issues, which means they are always best addressed quickly and transparently. But how do you voice your concerns? Our quick five step guide should help you negotiate the issue, seek support and take action.

Step 1 – Familiarise yourself with IEMA’s Code of Professional Conduct and what it asks of you as a professional. This will help you recognise situations where you are compromising, or are being pressured to compromise, your professional conduct. To quote our Change Management for Sustainable Development Guide, this can include “being asked to do things that feel beyond your competence, or beneath it; being asked to support action or policies that you do not believe in, or are against company policy, involve being less than truthful or are plain illegal”.

Step 2 – Talk to someone. A problem shared really is a problem halved. Ideally speak to your line manager; if you can’t do that in the first instance talk to colleagues or talk to other IEMA members. We are a community and a safe space, so it is likely that other members will have had similar experiences and can act as a sounding board, guide and challenging your thinking about your next steps. Perhaps voice your concerns (removing any names or specifics) on our closed LinkedIn group or look out for local IEMA events and socials to meet peers who you can talk to. Alternatively contact IEMA direct at [email protected] or telephone +44 (0)1522 540069.

Step 3 – Decide on the best action to take. This will depend upon the situation you face. There is not always a clear right or wrong answer to many situations. In a recent IEMA survey on professional conduct members reported that often the issues they face come from misunderstanding or a lack of understanding and that by talking to the parties involved, educating them, and negotiating with them, the situations can often be resolved. Of course, this takes courage and confidence so use your IEMA membership to help you. If you have a professional membership grade (one designated by a suffix) then have confidence in your convictions; you wouldn’t have the recognition if your assessors didn’t think you deserved it. You can also use the Code of Professional Conduct; show it to people and use it to demonstrate why you are raising the issue, and why you are giving advice. Of course you have no control over how people respond to your advice, but as long as you are giving advice to the best of your ability then your conscience is clear. At the extreme end of action some IEMA members have reported illegal activity to regulators or have left roles as a result of the pressure being put on them to compromise their professional conduct. The right course of action is not always easy, and you have to decide what your boundaries are, what the Code of Professional Conduct means to you and act accordingly. There are organisations that can help, such as Public Concern at Work who operate a whistleblowing helpline, so if you have a concern about wrongdoing or malpractice in your workplace you can give them a call to get guidance.

Step 4 – Act. This is where you put your chosen course of action into practice. You should consider keeping a thorough record of what happened and when, and how you acted.

Step 5 – Reflect. Life is a continual cycle of learning. So once the dust has settled on the situation, take some time and reflect on it. What happened? Why did it happen? How did you respond? How did others respond to you? What worked and what didn’t? If you had the opportunity to repeat the situation what would you do differently? You can use all of these learning points to help you in the future.

Useful sources of support and information:

Institute for Business Ethics

Public Concern at Work

Whistleblowing Guide for Employees

Environment incident hotlines:

Northern Ireland

Whilst these are UK based organisations the principles outlined in the resources that can be found on their websites will typically carry across the globe.