Being held accountable for our own actions is an ideal constantly emphasised as a significant part of growing up; an example of taking on adult levels of responsibility. And yet, in the world of employment, bosses are expected to take the blame for the actions of their employees. There needs to be an understanding of the separation between acts performed within the working environment, and private life.
This point has been demonstrated most clearly in recent allegations made against a former employee of the Adam Bennett housing agency for using his professional role as a platform for sourcing clients. It now reflects negatively on his boss who was, as has been made apparent by Nouse’s investigation, apparently entirely unaware of the situation.
Whilst some may say that Bennett should have been more conscious of his employees’ actions, it is arguable that for the employee in question, the issue to be raised is not the condoning or condemnation of activities he was undertaking in his private life: it is that he should never have merged personal activities with his job as it clearly undermines both his own occupational integrity and that of the whole enterprise. Although no longer employed at the agency, the repercussions of his previous acts remain significant.
We can never fully know what another human being is likely to do – we are subjective creatures, susceptible to being a liability to others; despite responsibilities held to higher authorities. Our own Lewis Bretts, of YUSU Democracy and Services fame, once profoundly commented that he, like the rest of us, is “human and fallible”. He was right, but this mustn’t stop us asserting our probity, particularly in the workplace. The reality of human nature is unfortunate, and cases such as this can be likened (on a grander scale, but with similar ramifications) to Bill Clinton’s impeachment after his infamous sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky. It reflected poorly on his government and political party, caused uproar, and has been said to have affected the outcome of Al Gore’s election campaign in 2000.
Indeed, for students at the University of York, it functions in the same way – if the entire student population started littering the streets of the city as a matter of course, the negative connotations would eventually affect the public attitude towards the official University body. Accountability infiltrates every level of society.
The predicament for trusting members of staff – even if they pass all manner of safety and integrity checks before employment – eventually relies on individuals recognising their impact on their superiors, and taking the blame for personal misconduct.
Objectivity in the workplace is a necessity to ensure a productive and responsible environment. Successful examples of this can be found most convincingly in professional collaborations of celebrity couples, for instance, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. These pairs have had numerous working partnerships as well as maintaining a private relationship – if they can do it alongside dealing with the stresses of fame and attempting to live a publically scrutinised lifestyle, how strenuous can it be for the rest of us to stay objective?
The distinction between the personal and the private is not always clear, but in most cases, where the distinction is apparent through codes of socially acceptable behaviour, it is remarkable that such an attitude could remain undetected.
It may prove problematic for some, but common decency is a fundamental quality to acquire in order to maintain professionalism and moral integrity.