A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.

An Open Letter to the “Unethical Employee” Character in the Business Ethics Training Video

Dear Unethical Employee,

I’m sure you understand when I say that I initially found you repulsive. That is your basic purpose, is it not? You stand there in front of a white, featureless background, next to the Ethical Employee, who is your only friend and may be your only co-worker. You wear an ill-fitting grey suit (the jacket mysteriously unbuttoned though you are standing), and are horseshoe-bald with close-cropped hair around the sides and back.

Your nose is Gallic, your chin unusually strong, and your facial features, when relaxed, create an unpleasant impression of simultaneous smugness and cluelessness, an impression reinforced by your tendency to repeatedly brag to the Ethical Employee about your latest bit of intra-office malfeasance despite never receiving an encouraging reply. Did you agree to divide territory with a competitor? Cover up an industrial accident that led to the deaths of over a hundred minimum-wage workers? Make an inadvisable post on social media? It doesn’t matter; she is never impressed, and is always quick to tell you exactly where you went wrong.

So as I said, I found you equally boorish and clueless, and I hope you’ll forgive me this first impression. Because over the course of the mandatory 60-minute online training program at my workplace, I came to admire your casual disregard for any and all ethical systems, and the devil-may-care attitude that led you to repeatedly reveal your transgressions to a disapproving co-worker.

Perhaps I envy you a little. In my own career, I have remained a timid and unassuming occupant of the lower rungs of the corporate ladder, my most rebellious moment being the time I decided to take a box of office Kleenex home because I had a very runny nose that day. You, however, are free of doubt or guilt. Over the course of what must have been a single business day, seeing as your wardrobe never changed, you admitted to:

  • Bribing foreign officials in order to conduct business free of meddlesome international bureaucracy.
  • Accepting a vendor’s gift of a week-long vacation at a Swiss ski chateau before awarding them a contract.
  • Bypassing the security settings on your work smartphone in order to download exotic “unapproved apps.”
  • Maintaining a Twitter account that you use to ridicule your customers by name.
  • Asking out a young new hire 4 times in a single day, then bragging to the Ethical Employee (who is female) when said new hire files a complaint with Human Resources.

I agree that these are awful and unethical behaviors that any responsible employee of a modern, forward-thinking company would do well to avoid performing themselves or tolerating in others. But isn’t there something recklessly beautiful about them, something that bespeaks a willingness to grab life by the throat in a way I can barely bring myself to dream of? I could easily see James Bond doing all of these things, including the Twitter account. ESPECIALLY the Twitter account. His subtweets to the CIA would regularly cause international incidents.

I understand that my sympathies ought to lie with your colleague, the Ethical Employee, a young, outspoken African-American woman who does not hesitate to put you in your place when you dismiss the idea that international bribery is “some kind of big deal.” And yet, over the course of those 60 corporate-mandated minutes, her rancorous, seemingly impotent objections started to grate on me. Did she ALWAYS have to explain in awkward, unnatural corporate-speak exactly what was wrong with your words or actions? Surely at some point she would have realized she was wasting her breath.

And if she really thought there was something wrong with you, why was she always there to hear it? Why is she spending all her time with a person she is constantly telling off? Is her need to be right so all-consuming that she surrounds herself with people who give her the best opportunities to judge, to castigate, to condemn? Maybe that’s why you never get fired for any of these actions! She wants to keep you around so she can feel better about herself! Either that or she’s tried reporting you, but the manager is as sick of her bullshit as everyone else.

But I don’t mean to come down on Ethical Employee too hard. She’s a good and active listener, and perhaps both of you have limited opportunities for social interaction, working in that featureless white void. That has to give you killer eye-strain.

I will say that both of you are preferable to the other Unethical Employee whose videos alternate with yours, a severe, sour-looking woman who shares your general air of unpleasantness, but without any of the pizzazz you bring to the role. Rather than a Swiss ski vacation, she gets in trouble for accepting a bracelet from a vendor with a “homemade jewelry company,” and only after the decision regarding the contract had been made. A homemade bracelet? How is that going to grease the wheels? Her other offenses involved lying to a client to close a sale, only hiring young white women to work in her office, and…improperly disposing of old paperwork in her desk. This must be what Hannah Arendt meant about the banality of evil, because I am BORED!

It was the final video that really cemented my contempt. In this scenario, Other Unethical Employee is no longer the perpetrator, but instead, the witness to another’s wrongdoing: she discovers that a well-liked coworker has been embezzling, and is afraid to report the crime. But with the help of her Ethical Employee, she realizes that snitching is her best option, and agrees to join the Ethical Employee in looking over the company’s Code of Conduct, which is probably the Ethical Employee’s idea of a fun time.

This final video actually made me angry, because this Unethical Employee, who has gone unpunished for every transgression she has committed, finally works her way back into the good graces of the Ethical Employee—and worse, does so by selling out another transgressor. What kind of zero-sum economy of grace is this?

Your final lesson, on the other hand, was as principled as it gets. The subject was Accounting and Financial Integrity, and it contained no video: presumably you refused to make one, because math is for nerds.

In closing, Unethical Employee Character in the Business Training Video, I find something admirable about your selfish and blinkered approach to life, but I cannot be you. Partly this is because, deep down, I’m a rule-following sucker who can’t shake his social programming, and partly it’s because I’m not in a client-facing position, and therefore almost none of the 60-minute course’s content was relevant to me. But I take some small solace in the knowledge that a person of your brazen non-integrity exists, if only in a video, and if I ever need to see you again, I can always set another office pet on fire.

With utmost sincerity,

Douglas Hamilton Wykstra

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This entry was posted on 10 July 2021 by in Life and tagged , , , , .
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