To whom do you owe loyalty at work?

Put yourself in the situation: You work for a leading cybersecurity company and you discover that the data you are dealing with has been extracted without the consent of the people you refer to. Are you alerting me to that? And if the company’s managers don’t take action, will you make it public at the cost of losing your job?

And if what you discover is that the computer software your company sells to different countries is being used to spy on citizens, will you alert?


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Mighty Rios

These and other dilemmas were raised a few days ago by a group of eight students of the UPC Data Science and Engineering and UB Philosophy degree to their classmates during an ethics topic to discuss where redlines in exercise or the impact of becoming an ethical whistleblower.

The exercise vividly illustrated the difficult balance of loyalties that come into play in these circumstances and the stresses caused by the moral struggles of employees when doing work that goes against their own values.

Data Science and Engineering students at UPC introduce an ethical topic to see where the red lines should not intersect in the development of their project

Moment in discussion about adaptive factors upon alerting of an ethical violation held by UPC Data Science students a few days ago

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As the responses of the students and teachers – Eva Vidal and Jordi Cortadella – who participated in the class showed, the warning about malpractice if one does not have financial problems (83% will do so) is not the same if the job is the only source of income for the family (it will only alert one person) or if the revelation entailed going into exile and his family (94% would not act).

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Besides ethical principles, the individual and family context and outcome of the action is fundamental when determining where the red lines are for each.

Between morality and survival

Psychologist Rafael San Roman explains: “When a company forces us to do something we do not consider moral, moral stress occurs because one is due not only to its morals and values, but also to its personal and professional survival.”

He asserts, “Although there is a psychological bias which makes us all practically believe that we are very good and that we will always choose the right path from a moral point of view, when it comes to the truth we often choose the least bad, and if the harm is very serious, one chooses not the common good but for the sake of Survival “.

We think we will always choose the right path, but when it comes to the truth, we choose the least bad


Rafael San Roman

Because who owes loyalty at work? for the institution? to the family? In the community? on himself? “Being happy with a bad conscience costs a lot, but you can also fool yourself, justify your decision and silence your conscience,” Mireya said in class.

From the field of psychology, Saint-Roman explains, these are the defensive mechanisms people use to manage stress and pain that are activated in the face of these moral dilemmas, especially when the option chosen is not the one we think is best. The best but yes, the best that suits us.

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“Thinking that it’s not that serious, that everyone does it, that it’s justified by the consequences that the other option might have, if we look the other way, that we’re going to adjust the decision in the future… all of these are the mechanisms we use to defend ourselves from moral distress. ‘,” says the psychologist.

Data Science and Engineering students at UPC introduce an ethical topic to see where the red lines should not intersect in the development of their project

The ethics course that UPC Data Science and Engineering students take is a test run to be expanded to other technical degrees

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He stresses that this ethical pressure is nothing new or limited to technologists. “Professional ethics affect all of us, although there are professions, such as health, teachers, technicians, lawyers or journalists where you are most present or where most dangerous situations arise.”

Massimo Beguel, regional director for Spain and Italy of the Top Employers Institute – a company that certifies leading companies in personnel management – points out that today’s employees, especially those with a technological profile, “want not only decent treatment, but also treatment consistent with their individual values.” .

Company culture must change to encourage employees not to hesitate to speak up without fear of reprisal


Massimo BiguelInstitute of Regional Director for Employers

It is for this reason, he says, that 73% of large companies in Spain take into account the contributions of their employees when setting their ethical standards (two years ago it was only 55%), and practically all companies (97%) have channels for anonymous reporting of potential ethical violations, cases of discrimination or harassment.

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However, having these channels through which complaints reach internal ethics committees is not enough; Companies should change the company culture to encourage employees to feel free to speak out, which is not always the case due to fear of reprisal,” says Beagle.

Pending Legislation

According to the 2019 European Directive, all companies with more than 50 workers must have internal communication mechanisms where they can report without revealing misconduct or ethical violations. At the moment, only Portugal, Sweden and Denmark have developed it in their national legislation. In the case of Spain, last March the government submitted a bill to regulate it.

Some students said, “It is good to promote the personality of the whistleblower, to have channels within the company for them to act and to be protected by laws, but ethical reporting cannot be an obligation either.”

They must know the environmental, social and economic impact of their developments to know where to set the red lines


Yves VidalTelecom Engineer, UPC Professor

Eva Vidal, Communications Engineer and Professor at UPC, who, along with Begoña Román, Professor of Philosophy at UB, is teaching this four-month course on Ethics in a Data Science and Engineering degree, underscores the importance of these future engineers “who at any time Times will design the world of companies “having knowledge of the environmental, social and economic impact of their decisions” to be able to assess them and see where they are setting the red lines.

He explains that this experiment—which will end with the development of a blog and Ten Commandments book on everything a data engineer should know about ethics—is part of an experimental plan at UPC to incorporate this knowledge into all grades.

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