Ethics: Divided Loyalties Part II

By Russell Ethridge

Todays Machining World Archives March 2007 Volume 03 Issue 03

I think I made a huge mistake. I left my job of 12 years to join a rival across town. The two companies compete for the same work and use many of the same vendors. While shooting the bull with my new co-workers, I thought I’d “raise” my stock in their eyes by revealing “inside” information about my old employer. I bragged about some special fabrication techniques, and I mentioned a little trick we played with U.S. Customs that saved my old company a bundle when it came to classifying some imported material. Everyone was impressed, but now my new boss wants to drag me to the customs office to spill the beans on my old gang, who I still really like. He’s also expecting me to reveal everything I learned over 12 years. I don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong with customs, but the investigation will be a hassle, and everyone will know my new company is behind it. I’ll look even worse when my former employer sees that my new employer finally solved a production problem using a process we used at the old shop. I feel sick about it, like I’m Benedict Arnold.

Since the “damage” is already done, what’s the ethical dilemma; whether or not you should continue to beat yourself up for enhancing your status at the expense of your old company? Who are you worried about – the people who may now regret not keeping you? Before you whip yourself raw, ask yourself what you’ve really done “wrong.” Assuming you’re not under some sort of confidentiality agreement or trade secret situation, your guilt bag is a product of loyalty which you no longer owe. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t harbor respect and admiration for the old gang, but you’re now in competition with them, and the information you revealed is fair ammunition in the business world. Can you imagine a professional football player refusing to tell his new team how to read his old team’s defense out of some sense of loyalty?

You have a real interest in your new employer’s success. You were hired precisely because you bring experience and expertise gained over 12 years with its competition. I’ll assume there were good reasons why you moved across town. If there was something secret about your old employer’s operation, shame on it for failing to get your loyalty reduced to writing. If the old firm didn’t consider something important enough to protect it, why should you worry about it? As far as the customs trick, if it is legal, you’re just bringing a best practice to your new workplace. If it is illegal, why should you let your new employer lose out to a cheater? Loyalty doesn’t mean throwing the fight because you respect the other fighter. It doesn’t mean forgetting what you learned from the last time you fought him or the last time you traded training techniques at the gym. Loyalty means respect and fairness, and there is nothing about loyalty which requires amnesia.

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