Navigating Ethical Dilemmas in the Workplace

In today’s interview, meet Lisbeth McNabb, a 4word board member sharing expertise around digital communications and social media. In October 2007, after a successful 20+ year career at companies like, PepsiCo Frito-Lay and American Airlines, Lisbeth decided to launch

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Lisbeth took time to share some advice about handling ethical dilemmas in the workplace.


4word: Have you ever been in a situation where you had to sell something that you didn’t exactly align with ethically?

Lisbeth: Definitely. I remember a time when a couple members of the executive team I was on wanted to essentially fool one of our clients, and take advantage of the fact that we had better data than the client did.

That didn’t sit right with me. I wanted to have a win-win situation with our client to preserve our relationship. I approached one of the executives about it, and he basically told me, “If they’re not savvy enough to really dig at this and analyze the data, we don’t have to tell them.”

It was clear to me that there was a value conflict here. He was okay with tricking a client – with not being transparent – and I wasn’t. He decided to go forward with his plan, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Six months later it all came to a head. As I’d warned my coworker, our client figured out what had happened, and they weren’t happy. They called a meeting with a high-level executive in the company to lay out their case, and as a result, my team got called out and harangued by this senior executive for making a stupid, foolish decision.

The good news is I didn’t get thrown under the bus. That coworker I mentioned earlier took responsibility for his decision and said he would move it forward and clean up the mess.

4word: How would you recommend that our readers think and pray through similar situations at their own offices?

Lisbeth: I believe in the power of prayer. Sometimes you might be led to stay in the company, because you can be a force of change. Even if you aren’t in a position of power to cause change, you should still pray and watch for signs of change within the company. Just remember that change takes time.

Pray for the people around you with similar values who also aren’t in a position to change anything, and pray also for those who do have the power to cause change. But I think you should also know that you don’t have to stay with the company if there is a serious ethical conflict.

4word: With the prevalence of social media, the question of whether employees should have access to sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is a hot topic these days. Do you think employee misuse of company time on email and social media is becoming a serious ethical issue in the workplace? Why or why not?

Lisbeth: Being in the digital space for the past several years, I have watched people’s opinions change on this. For me, the issue of social media misuse at the office has two levels.

On the one hand, unproductive behavior has always been around – remember the water cooler? A lot of studies show that productivity and engagement are correlated. When people are disengaged from the company’s mission and their role in it, they disengage and become unproductive.

On the other hand, we know that regardless of what they do at the office, employees are going to be on social media on their personal time, talking about the company. That’s why your employees, just as much as your customers, need to understand your mission. If they do, you’ll win in the marketplace and with your employees.

4word: Given your background in the web/tech industry, at and now at, how do you handle this issue with your employees?

Lisbeth: The real issue is to work on engaging your employees and helping them understand how their daily metrics are connected to the company’s mission. The more they buy into that, the more productive they’ll be, and the more they will self-check their use of social media, email etc. on company time.

And, since your people are going to talk about the company on social media during their personal time, make sure they really understand what you do, why you do it, etc. You need to connect your metrics to your mission.

4word: Any other thoughts on ethics in the workplace?

Lisbeth: I’ve been learning a lot of wonderful things from 4word and Diane Paddison. One of the greatest things I’ve learned is to bring my Christianity more into my daily business life. Before, I felt I needed to be respectful of the religions of others by compartmentalizing my faith and my work. 4word has brought me a real ability to put my faith into practice in the workplace and talk about my faith more in my professional life.


Have you been stumped by a sticky ethical situation at work?
How did you handle it? Tell us your story in the comments.