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Dear Fifi: I committed major fraud at work - but I stand by what I did

Can you believe it’s more than halfway through March already?

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I’m into my last couple of weeks in Vietnam! Can you believe it? I’m heading to Korea and Japan next, where I’ll be aiming to not work for a few weeks. With that in mind, it’s a great time to get in touch with me for Dear Fifi, as I’ll be stockpiling questions all of this week.

So if you’ve got a burning issue… Now’s the time!

Get at me right here.

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I am 24 year old guy working in a small firm as a software developer. This is my second firm. 

In my previous company, there was a guy who worked well and clients were happy with him. I was also good but he was much better, eventually he was promoted after 4 months and became the team lead, which was great. But as soon as he became TL he stopped talking to me the way we used to. Whatever work was assigned to him, he did all by himself and never delegated any to me.

Now this was a potentially hazardous situation because when you stop getting challenges, you cease to grow. My billable hours were so low and my skills were rusting. This continued for almost a year. 

In this year, I tried to talk to him and discussed if there was a problem – he never said anything. I booked movie tickets for him, gifted him on his birthday, but he wouldn’t give me any work to do. Once an asset, I became the worst performing employee in no time. I couldn’t let that happen to me. I had to do something. I felt a lot of pressure. 

I decided enough was enough – I stole his access to the server and deleted 2 weeks of his work. Later on, everyone found out how this happened. I was caught and fired – my boss told me that “you were my best employee” while he was approving my resignation. I was in tears – if only this guy had delegated me work, I would have been much better. I did nothing to harm him other than this. I found another job within 10 days and everything is good here.

Now that I reflect on what I did – I feel like I was absolutely correct in doing it, even though I knew that I could be sent to the police if my boss wanted (hacking into someone’s server is a very serious crime and deleting his 2 weeks worth of work was a loss to the company). But he made me do it. After a year of going through it, I had no options left.

Was I right? Should I have done things differently? 

In short: no you were not right, and yes you absolutely should have done things differently. 

It’s very troubling that although you accept you did carry out this gross breach of trust and illegal behaviour, you have not truly learnt anything from the bad situation you put yourself in. You agree you broke the law, harmed the company and jeopardised client work – but you fail to see that this was an act of vindictiveness on your part. You need to accept responsibility for this.

You are not the victim. Your manager didn’t ‘make’ you do anything. This was your choice. 100%. No one forced your hand.

This was certainly not the only solution to your workplace predicament. If you were genuinely struggling to receive work from your direct manager, you should have made an official complaint verbally, then in writing, then escalated it to a higher-up manager if nothing changed. You could have highlighted your concerns about billable hours, skill deterioration and work satisfaction through official channels. If your first port of call (your line manager) didn’t work, you could have gone through other people, including the boss who later fired you or a HR rep, to try and alert people to your difficulties.

Instead, you chose to break the law in an attempt to sabotage your colleague. This would achieve nothing in terms of delegation of work, would it? It was an attempt to punish your manager. Be honest with yourself. It may be only yourself you are fooling here.

You could have stolen his access to acquire some work to do, but you did not. You stole his access to erase his work, cause him stress, lose the company time and money, and exact revenge for perceived slights against you.

Can you see that? I think it will be difficult for you to learn and grow from this experience, which you seem ostensibly keen on doing in other areas of life, if you have no insight into how destructive and dangerous this reckless behaviour was. I think you are in certain danger of doing something else this egregious down the line in another job, and this time you may not be so lucky – you may be blacklisted or prosecuted, which would be reasonable considering your history of this behaviour.

You were given a lucky escape. Try to understand that. This first company did not give you a bad reference, they did not alert the police and they did not pursue this very serious matter any further. You should be appreciative that they were lenient on you. 

If you struggle to accept true responsibility for this, I would advise that you book in for a few sessions with a counsellor to get to the root of this. The fact that you perceive yourself as a victim, despite actively choosing to harm others, and that you also saw this extremely poor choice as somewhat ‘inevitable’ are ringing big alarm bells for me. 

As I say, you’ve been given another chance in your career. Do not be so careless this time. If you have a concern at work, alert the right managers, escalate it through the proper mediums. Do not take justice into your own hands, do not break the law, to not attempt to hurt others in pursuit of your own idea of what is fair, do not blame others for your actions.

It backfired last time and it will backfire again. Please try and learn from this experience.

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