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How to Handle Severe Peer Pressure at Work

This month’s news regarding the stunning indictment of SAC Capital for what the government described as rampant and “institutionalized” insider trading brought to light just how much pressure can be on employees to follow the herd. Even if your job isn’t monitored by the SEC, you can still find yourself in situations where you are being asked to do something you feel is unethical. Here are three tips on how to maintain honesty and integrity in an environment where the pressure toward doing what you know is wrong may be too intense.

Handling Peer Pressure at Work  (Photo: iStockphoto)

Tell the truth – all the time
The office is the worst place to get caught in a lie. The overabundance of the written record in email in particular offers too many opportunities for the truth to be discovered. Clients I have spoken to who have gone through such an audit admit that the pressure to cover up perceived imperfections on projects to placate a manager or a client proved to be too great to overcome. The pressure to perform can certainly be immense in a high-pressure environment, but the consequence of masking, subverting or negating the truth is far more terrible and certainly avoidable if you can just concentrate on the facts.

Follow your conscience
If a colleague or superior asks you to do something that just feels wrong, deceitful or subversive, it probably is. The demands in the workplace can skew your moral compass if you are caught up in the wrong situation. Listen to yourself. One bad decision can cost your career and in the extreme cases public embarrassment, asset forfeiture and potential incarceration. Ask yourself, “Could there be legal repercussions because of this decision I’m making?” If the answer is yes, walk away.

Leverage Compliance and HR
Aside from the rare exception, nearly every employer you will encounter over the course of your career will be honest and will faithfully strive to create an operating environment that is beyond reproach. Companies invest millions of dollars in building strong compliance and human resource departments, and you should feel comfortable raising your concerns to leaders there about questionable tasks you might be pressured to perform. Employers with a robust control environment typically provide an anonymous hotline for risk-related matters so take advantage if that is the case with your employer. You will have no excuse for not raising your hand if a simple call to a compliance rep would have avoided an illegality.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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