A Question of Professional Ethics and Friends

Professionalism and ethics questions between two parties are fairly cut and dried. However, things can very quickly get murky when muliple parties are involved. Justice asked me to advise on a situation.

Justice works for DesignStudio and they have a large client account BigClient. Recently BigClient employed an in-house designer called Riley. Coincidentally Justice and Riley happen to be friends who both move in the same active social circles. One day Justice overhears the DesignStudio execs wondering why they are now getting less work out of BigClient than before. They are discussing the latest design outputs of BigClient and wondering where they are coming from. Justice knows from social conversation with Riley that Riley turned out better than BigClient expected so BigClient is giving more work to Riley instead of taking it to DesignStudio.

Should Justice tell the DesignStudio bosses or not? I would say no.

Telling DesignStudio bosses might win some brownie points and demonstrate loyalty towards DesignStudio. But Riley probably did not intend the information about extra work to go any further than the social group. If DesignStudio bosses acted on this information and spoke with BigClient then that might make things difficult between BigClient and Riley.

One could think that Riley should be more careful with what they say but add in a couple of drinks and people toasting each other's accomplishments for the week and it's easy to let things slip. Telling the DesignStudio bosses is acting in the employer's best interests but loyalty between friends should count too.

There needs to be some leeway and forgiveness between friends. Firstly it would be a sad world where friends could not privately discuss some aspects of their work out of fear of being taken advantage of. People need safe places to vent their excess emotions; happy or sad. Secondly this time Riley let slip some information, next time it could be Justice innocently doing the same. Friendship is not about one-foot-wrong and you get taken advantage of. A good friendship will outlast a job.

For these reasons, if I was Justice, I would not tell my bosses about Riley. DesignStudio's Account Managers will probably be told if they contact BigClient directly and ask.

(Scenario based on a true story, real names not used)