The courage of your convictions. That's a highly important and often underrated attribute in the workplace. "Courage is integrity in action,"...

Share story

CHICAGO — The courage of your convictions.

That’s a highly important and often underrated attribute in the workplace.

“Courage is integrity in action,” said Monica Worline, assistant professor of organization and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta.

“I’m not talking about grand actions taken by top executives — I mean the courage of everyday workers to speak out.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

To find out how often workers speak up when they think something is wrong or unfair, Worline studied 650 employees in the semiconductor and software industries.

And she found that most of them took the risk of speaking out in defense of colleagues, about flawed strategies that could bring a company down and to report abusive managers.

Their acts of courage usually didn’t involve big scams or major dishonesty — only 3 percent mentioned widespread corruption or whistle-blowing.

They were more “modest forms of everyday intestinal fortitude,” Worline said.

“Courage in the workplace encompasses a constructive opposition of things you think aren’t right,” said Worline, who also researches the way people experience compassion in the workplace. “It’s more a personal judgment of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

I asked Worline why workers should be courageous — doesn’t that put them at risk of losing their livelihoods?

“Sometimes it does — I don’t want to sugarcoat this — but more often in my research, which I started in 2000, I’ve found that people who take courageous actions actually draw positive attention to themselves and help the organization succeed,” she replied.

While some workers who voice complaints may indeed lose their jobs, Worline says, “a more common sanction is that you may fall out of favor with management. It’s not pleasant, but you don’t lose your job. On the other hand, there are quite a few instances I found where workers are listened to and see change happen. There is a probability of success.”

But don’t just blurt out what’s bothering you. “Don’t speak up blindly, but trust your intuition about when something is important enough to take the risk to speak up about,” Worline said.

She observes that people who have the courage to use their own names and not complain anonymously “often believe they are just doing their jobs, and while they may be scared, anxious or angry about what happened — they also feel good about doing the right thing.”

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.