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THE QUESTION

Our senior manager has scheduled regular private chats with all members of the team. At first, many of us thought this was a great idea, but some of us have noticed these chats are for destructive reasons.

We have been asked to "spy" on our managers and report back to this person. This surprised us, as we have good managers, so this backstabbing approach seems unprofessional. There have been times where we were asked to do the same about co-workers.

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Those who have accommodated this negative game-playing are now his favourites. Some have admitted to stretching the truth to make him like them. Many of us who have refused to do this are ignored. We now feel threatened we may lose our jobs.

Do we come clean and let our managers know what he has been asking us to do? Do we go to his boss? Or do we have human resources conduct an investigation?

I refuse to play his game, but I don't want to lose my job either.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

You need to think about the long-term implications of a decision to stay where you are. I would be asking myself this question: Is this the kind of workplace I want to be part of in the foreseeable future?

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You have a boss who obviously thinks spying and subterfuge are legitimate management tools, and a group of employees who have bought into his game-playing and now use it for their own personal gain.

You have made the right decision not to be part of this destructive behaviour and thus have preserved your personal integrity, so the short-term strategy is to figure out how to also preserve your job as you now are essentially forced into a whistleblower role.

While the direct approach is often the preferred course because it gives the offending party the opportunity to respond and change, I doubt that your manager will respond in a positive way; instead, he will likely return to his machinations and start rallying his troops, and may even go to his direct superior to paint a negative picture of you.

So I suggest you meet with like-minded colleagues to develop a cohesive position, and then have a face-to-face meeting with whomever your managers' boss reports to. Hopefully that will prove to be a trustworthy and independent channel to obtain meaningful change.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Billy Anderson

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Founder of The Courage Crusade, Toronto

Why are you so worried about losing your job when the atmosphere is so toxic? Are there no other job options where you live?

People like your senior manager are unlikely to change, so you can either keep working hard and not play his game, thereby maintaining your integrity but possibly risking your job, or try to get him fired or transferred. And also risk losing your job.

If you decide to expose the situation, leverage your strongest relationships. Do you have a trusting relationship with his boss? Or do you have more faith that HR will look out for your best interests? Conversely, if you all "come clean" with your managers, are they more likely to turn against you or the senior manager?

Do other people at your level feel the same? As a group, you will have more credibility than on your own.

HR and senior management will be most concerned with the big picture. So, explain to them the negative impact your boss is having, how it affects staff, productivity, clients and sales, and how the company could benefit if it was changed.

A year from now, what will you wish you had done?

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Nine to Five contributor for Globe Careers

"When you know who you really are, what you’re great at, and what you stand for, you want to jump out of bed and dance to the radio every morning,” says Billy Anderson.  He has been an advertising manager, a non-profit executive, and an instructor for Outward Bound Canada. More

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