Lesson 1: (Kedoshim) – Do not place a stumbling block before the blind: Transparency in your career
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning. You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:14
The Tora offers a series of injunctions that constrain the individual from knowingly exercising power to the detriment of the other. These rulings prohibit defrauding your fellow, deferring paying the wages of someone you hired, insulting a person with a hearing impairment (even if they can’t hear you), and placing an obstacle before a person with a visual impairment (even if they are not aware it was you). In summary, these negative commandments recall the sad but familiar refrain: “I did it not because it was right; I did it because I could.” Using power over an unsuspecting other has ramifications in many aspects of life.
In essence, these injunctions can be easily understood as prohibiting cursing or insulting anyone (even in cases where you cannot be discovered) or placing a stumbling block before any naïve person (even if you can get away with it). Thus, a “stumbling block” has been taken to include withholding information you are privy to or simply taking advantage of the other’s ignorance. The antidote is sensitivity to the other and transparency in your dealings with them.
“Would you buy a used car from_______”?
A used car salesperson has become the archetypical transparency test, leading to this popular slur. Its true meaning, of course, is “Can this person be trusted?” Car dealers certainly know more about the quality of the used car and its potential risks than any customer, placing them in a one-up position; indeed, some may choose not to share critical information that would jeopardize the deal. Work and career issues abound in transparency challenges: These include how an employer justifies differential wages or other benefits to particular employees, how much information is concealed from potential customers, and how much sensitive information should job seekers divulge in their job search on their résumé or a job interview (e.g., reasons for previous dismissals, pregnancy, criminal record?
Open communication appears to be the critical element of establishing workplace trust. When managers are accessible and share a measure of their management dilemmas, employees become aware that not every decision will always benefit every worker. Studies have shown that a trusting organizational culture, where information is freely shared, leads to employee loyalty and engagement and even enhances workers’ ethical behavior on the job.
The job search offers particular challenges in transparency. In today’s digital environment, concealing information has become more difficult––most personal information can be discovered through various background checks. This is true for both employers and job seekers. A resourceful job seeker can and should research a firm and its employees, perhaps discovering how the sought position has changed hands more frequently than other positions or why there are no female employees in a particular branch office. These anomalies can be explored online, with other workers, or by querying the job interviewer.
Similarly, how should job seekers construct their résumé? We are all aware that the résumé is not a memoir and does not need to divulge all details that you may or may not be proud of, but are there red lines in résumé transparency? A prime dilemma is how should the job seeker relate to a criminal record. Most advice calls for avoiding mentioning it in the résumé and waiting to disclose this information at the job interview. Some have even promoted implementing the “Stealing Thunder” technique, where applicants with a lamentable history may preemptively disclose negative information at the job interview by recounting the incident(s) in a planned and rehearsed narrative, seeking to establish a trusting relationship.
Anyone with a problematic component in their work history (such as incarceration, hospitalization, firings, or extensive work gaps) should inquire to what extent the employer is legally allowed to probe. If the employer inquires about legal infractions in the job interview, briefly explain what happened, but try to keep it positive and not dwell on the past. Explain how you have learned from your mistakes, how you have benefited from helpful interventions, and that your focus is on positively contributing to the employer’s operation. It is critical to describe what you have done––formally and informally––following your conviction to illustrate your normative adjustment.
- For job candidates: Extensive work gaps in one’s résumé have always been problematic for employers. As a job candidate, it’s best to fill these gaps with information about informal activities to indicate that you weren’t vegetating until you found this job opportunity. These may include devoting time to family obligations, taking formal or informal training or coursework for enrichment, or taking some time to reassess your career path. Given high turnover trends in the workforce, these gaps may be less of a liability than in the past.
- For job candidates 2: Concealing information is problematic, certainly in today’s level of information access. A deception may get you through one or more application hurdles. However, when (not if) your falsehood is revealed, any potential employer would be hard-pressed to trust you going forward. A further ramification is the boomerang effect, whereby your name may be shared beyond that employer’s organization.
- Try this: At work–A competitive organizational culture runs the risk of discouraging workers’ transparency. However, freely sharing useful information among colleagues helps create a win-win environment, and transparency between management and workers is the foundation of a trusting and engaged workforce.
Krylova, K. O., Longaacre, T. E., & Phillips, J. S. (2018). Applicants with a tarnished past: Stealing thunder and overcoming prior wrongdoing. Journal of Business Ethics 150, 793-802.