Imagine your boss asking if he could kiss your coworker — or asking them if they’d ever played strip poker. Now imagine just five years earlier, your boss was accused of stealing “hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and other official state benefits” by federal prosecutors, and nine of his direct employees were arrested for bribery and corruption. Now imagine if your boss had done both of those things.
If you work in Andrew Cuomo’s office, you don’t have to. But what you should be doing is trying to figure out how to weather the scandal in a way that doesn’t compromise your career, your dignity, or your values, even if you want to keep working in Albany for many years to come.
The inciting event
Is it personal? There are many kinds of corporate scandals, but they can be divided into two categories: something that happened directly to you, and something that didn’t. Something that happened to you might be a racist remark, intimidation, or pay cut out of spite. Something that didn’t happen to you would be hiding billions of dollars in liabilities, sharing the data of your platform users, or claiming to develop a new kind of blood test. And what kind of scandal it is will dictate how you respond.
If the scandal is personal, you’re directly involved. You might need to go to court, testify, settle, or even lead an entire effort of other coworkers who have also been victimized by the scandal. So it’s important to know the law— but don’t take it into your own hands.
The Harvard Business Review emphasizes that one should “ensure that they are clear on what constitutes legal misconduct and socially sanctioned though technically legal behavior in their new environment.” If you believe something problematic occurred to you in the workplace, consult a lawyer before you take to social media, lest you blow your chances at a fair trial or your chances at future employment.
Additionally, remember that these events can be incredibly hard on the victims. You might want to ask family or friends to check in more often, seek some mental health services, or take up a cathartic hobby to distract from the stress, like ax throwing, or needlepoint.
If the scandal doesn’t involve you, even if it’s around a topic you feel passionate about, you might want to take some time and mull over your reaction before picketing outside with a #MeToo sign, or announcing your run for office. If this is a matter of company culture contrasting with your personal values, much like Uber’s alleged “bro-culture”, you might want to quit. But that’s not the only option.
If you care about your coworkers or know those directly involved, you could show your quiet support in more personal ways, like being a shoulder to cry on, or organizing an office-wide effort to raise money for their legal bills. But there’s always a possibility that you don’t know what went on, and you don’t care — in which case you should feel confident in your decision to do nothing, and take care of yourself instead.
Take care of yourself first. As mentioned previously, taking care of yourself will be your greatest asset during the direct fallout of the scandal. Harvard Business journal advises that “being stigmatized can have serious consequences on your psychological health,” and in order to keep doing your job at a company that might be crumbling, you should feel free to take mental health days, or see a counselor to talk over your emotions.
Quickbase also advises that using your support network and “talking about your insights with close friends and family will put the scandal in its proper context.” Views from the outside are extremely helpful in tense situations, and whether it’s a mentor, parent, or friend in the field, you might get some pointers not only on where to turn, but how to take care of yourself.
Follow your coworkers – or lead them. A good way to figure out how to weather the storm of scandal is to observe how your coworkers are reacting; some may have stayed, and some may have left, and it’s important to note if more left than stayed. According to the Harvard Business Journal, those who departed from the firm after the scandal might provide “job leads and information about what companies are open to candidates with your background,” if you’ve maintained a good relationship with them.
If your coworkers are like you and aren’t sure what to do, take the initiative yourself. Schedule a meeting, gather the troops, and create an environment that feels safe and healthy enough to process what’s going on. Don’t make a plan for the future just yet – take some time to learn more about what’s going through your coworkers’ heads before you take the initiative to enlist them in your coup.
A fork in the road. Maybe this was your dream job, and you really enjoy the work you do – maybe you’re happy that your boss is gone now, replaced with a much better manager, and you feel you can be more innovative or be heard more with new leadership. But ultimately, the most important thing about the aftermath of a corporate scandal should be that regardless of all that transpired, you still want to be there, and through the course of the scandal, you didn’t burn an unnecessary amount of bridges that would prevent you from staying.
If there’s any doubt in your mind as to if this job is right for you, don’t hesitate to search for another. You shouldn’t feel like you wasted time enduring stress and hardship just to leave after the curtain fell on the scandal; rather, take this opportunity to tell future interviewers about your own perseverance and resilience against adversity. You might even have a lucrative career in Albany ahead of you if you just keep your head up and maintain your character through the maelstrom of drama around you.
Network – but not too much. Networking after a scandal can come in the form of asking past coworkers or current ones to introduce you to new leads, advisors, or even legal help. And thankfully, the HBR reports that “an extensive network and other types of social capital can help mitigate the effects of organizational stigma.” With more of your peers to vouch for your steadfastness through your boss’ tumultuous disgrace, future workplaces will cite your resilience to cultivate a “positive stereotype of such workers as an undervalued source of talent.”
That being said, you might look desperate if you reach out to too many resources too quickly after the choppy waters of a scandal become smoother. “When your company is entangled in a public scandal…even light chit-chat will center on your employer and its blemished reputation,” the HBR reports.
If you’d like to retain your reputation as someone who avoids the petty world of gossip, you’ll be wise to avoid situations that might compromise your stance as a company man — or woman. Additionally, it could compromise someone’s lawsuit to have information leaked to someone you assume trustworthy, as they could turn to the press for their fifteen minutes of fame.