The Outsider Part 3: whistleblowers, and surviving the inauthentic workplace

Whistleblowers are, in my view, the unsung heroes of our day.  They are the rare people of personal integrity, driven by force of conscience against a sea of resistance, by an inner compass that is sadly lacking in the majority who conform to the prevailing politic of the workplace or culture.  If this were not the case, then whistleblowers would not find themselves invariably alone.  And good, moral practice would be commonplace.

Sadly, inauthentic workplaces are created when a culture prevails of staff support of poor, self-serving or exploitative management.  Narcissism, self-interest and a dearth of personal integrity in management are widespread problems, and where narcissistic individuals manage, a cadre of admirers and followers can always be found.  They are both sides of the same problem and often create collusive conditions whereby ethical and moral practices are compromised in the interests of maintaining unhealthy, self-interested dynamics designed to reward individual egos. Whistleblowers tend to be individuals who first appeal to those in charge to make changes to such unhealthy cultures, and when silenced or their concerns dismissed, take action to reveal the truth in an effort to protect the interests, intent and purposes of the work.  They often discover, however, that appeals to authority via grievance procedures for example, only reveal the scale and systemic level of the problem, which tends to exist by virtue of immoral or incompetent executive structures that permit them to continue.  We see the same dynamic of self-serving manager or executive and obsequious follower in every institution, including politics. It is such a pervasive problem that we now live in a world where truth is routinely compromised for the sake of expediency in meeting individual self-interest.

Whistleblowing – the act of speaking up about unethical, incompetent, illegal, unsafe or immoral practices instead of staying silent and colluding with them – should be held up as an admirable act of honourable conduct in a moral world.  But as history shows us, it is held in such contempt by those members of the culture it challenges that a pattern emerges quite quickly of the truth-teller being stigmatised, scapegoated, isolated, attacked and abandoned rather than celebrated for their authenticity.  This fact, in itself, is a testament to the culture that we live in: a culture that is built upon inauthenticity and collusion for the sake of convenience, profit and personal gain.  Once again, if this were not the case, then whistleblowing would be unnecessary and seldom seen.

orwell

Typically, whistleblowers have bucked the system and upset the applecart by revealing truths typically concealed by collusion.  The cost to the truth-teller of complaints procedures, grievance processes, social exclusion, lost opportunities, and often resignations can have a devastating effect upon individuals who were motivated to speak out against wrong-doing for the right reasons: to protect themselves and the common good.  Such individuals can find themselves so isolated and alone, abandoned by colleagues and managers they may have once trusted, and having had to survive the hell of hostile grievance procedures that typically frame them as the guilty party, rather than those they have complained against.  Psychologically, emotionally, financially, socially they can find themselves devastated, their careers set back, stifled or ruined.

Rebuilding one’s sense of self and purpose, sifting through the devastation and re-inventing oneself can be a long and painful task for some.  Having gone through the hell of this process myself after I blew the whistle on sexual harassment and other misconduct of a senior manager and an evident narcissist, I know all too well what that process entails; the lies that some colleagues will tell; the deals struck in favour of  abusers and those who lied; the diabolical maneouvres and denials of executives, and the cowardly silences of others, all to protect the guilty party and his or her associates.

As a psychotherapist, I have the utmost respect for anyone who has the courage to stand on the outside; stand against a corrupt institution; or who survives narcissistic abuse in the workplace; and those who take the road less travelled to uphold a moral imperative ahead of personal gain and personal wellbeing.  I have worked with people who have survived this trial by fire, felt completely broken by it, but ultimately have come out the other end stronger and more resolute than ever.  It can be a lengthy recovery for some coming to terms with traumatic experiences that haunt them for years, even decades.  Or a short one for others who perhaps only need to tell their story and be understood and accepted for it.  Either way, help is available and the overarching message I want to give here is: you are not alone.  Your conduct is to be celebrated for making the world a little better in your refusal to collude; to go along to get along, or keep the peace ‘for a quiet life’.  The world needs more people like you….

Photo credit: Garry Zaildar

Related:

A great post by Pamela Popper describing some of the dirty tactics used in an effort to silence whistleblowers:

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. V says:

    I loved reading this, so freakin much ❤️ thank you for your words

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      You’re very welcome! Thank you.

      Like

  2. JR says:

    I totally relate. I’ve been a whistle blower a few times at different work places. Each time I was made out to be the bad guy because I wasn’t going along with what was expected by the majority. I left two of those jobs because of that reason. Thanks for bringing awareness to this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Thanks for your comment JR and I’m sorry to hear that you too have experienced this. The culture that whistleblowers respond to is so widespread in my experience that I’ve concluded that it is a pandemic feature of the human race. I added a paragraph to say a little more about this: the collusion between management and admirers within the staff team. You find the same dynamic at work in politics.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Julia Hodierne says:

    This piece is excellent. Absolutely on the spot. Feel much better for reading it and now feel much better for sticking to my guns. For my whole life I have found myself in these sorts of dilemma and in the end have had to say it like I could see because not to would have left me more guilty and unable to live with myself.
    Due to one of the worst experiences I found myself having to navigate resulted in me having to turn my back on my midwifery which I loved and which now I can’t bear to watch programmes like One born every minute. It is very sad but at least I escaped with my life because at the time it left me feeling suicidal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephen says:

      Julia, thank you for your comment and kind words. I’m very sorry for the suffering you went through. It is extremely common both to be treated like this as a whistleblower, and to suffer the distress that you describe. I’ve been there myself and it’s horrendous.

      Rest assured that you aren’t alone, and that there are people of conscience like yourself who act with personal integrity. It is, as you know, the hardest road but a better one than remaining silent when you know it is wrong to do so.

      I also acknowledge your loss of career – again seems to be a theme for people who do the right thing in the workplace. I hope that you’re able to use your skills and integrity somewhere you are valued and respect for the person you are.

      Like

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