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Disclaimer: the story described here happened few years ago and it's all over. I did take some actions back then, but I'm wondering until today if I did the right thing.

Very small company, startup atmosphere, 6 developers at best. I am informal team leader ie. I have been working for longest time and I'm most experienced. We have 3 rooms, one for CEO, one for frontend, one for backend + testers. I am working in the latter one with 3 collagues, or more like friends, our talks were very informal everyday. One day one of my colleagues asks me direct question: how much do I earn? I was surprised, but also I had nothing to hide, so I answered thruthfuly. And then discussion has began between four of us. Private discussion with closed doors.

Mentioned colleague started talking he is in recruitment process for another company and he thinks he will leave, because our CEO said he can't match his salary expectations, but hearing that I'm earning more that he would like to, he is convinced our CEO is lying. This is fine, not the first time I hear something like that from my colleague, I do nothing. But other colleagues joined the discussion and revealed all of them are talking to said competitor. I started to worry: we may lose our backend team and the only one tester. What should I do? Should I tell CEO something is happening? I have completely no obligation to do so, but I feel that company interests are in danger thus my interests are in danger. If I lived in a place where it's easy to find replacements or another job in industry I wouldn't worry that much. But I'm not, company bankruptcy or failure to continue development likely means I will have to move to another city. Losing half of the team sounds like a disaster. On the other hand they said it in trust I won't use that information against them. They just wanted my opinion about local industry market. I really felt they think I was on their side (and actually I was! I'm always ready to offer help whatever the topic is.)

What I actually did:

I told CEO about everything. My reasoning was selfish, I have kids, mortgage, if company fails I'm in big trouble. Said colleague was fired instantly for unethical actions (trying to pull other colleagues from the company). It turned out CEO knows the other CEO and they came to agreement.

closed as unclear what you're asking by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Twyxz, Rory Alsop, sf02 Jun 17 at 14:35

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    I understand that this was a tough position for you to be in. My question is this: How important to you is your word and your integrity? How important are they to your family, friends, and colleagues? What lessons are you teaching your children about integrity and honesty? I suspect that in the long term these values are more important to you than any job. Sometimes holding true to our word and our values comes at a cost to us, such as the loss of a job. The fact that you're asking this question several years after the fact tells me that you probably regret your actions at that time. – joeqwerty Jun 13 at 1:59
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    Did your colleagues/friends feel you betrayed their confidence back then? The one who left and the ones who stayed? Did your relationship to them change? It would be nice if you could tell a little more of the aftermath. – filbranden Jun 13 at 2:06
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    How exactly does getting a colleague fired save the team from that colleague leaving? – L.Dutch Jun 13 at 9:36
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    @JoeStrazzere I assume the CEOs agreed not to hire each others employees, much like Apple and Google got caught doing. – BSMP Jun 13 at 10:26
  • And now I understand the down-votes. You got caught in a bad situation. Life is like that sometimes. Sorry for all the down-votes -- I'm guessing the people who are doing it think you should have fallen on your sword. FWIW, I'd have done the exact same thing. – Julie in Austin Jun 15 at 21:03
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So you want to keep a confidence, but if you do the company might tank and you fear for your job.

It is impossible to fully satisfy both objectives, but that doesn't mean you have to give up an objective entirely. Perhaps a compromise might be found that gives both the company, and your friends, a fair chance?

For instance, you could mention to the CEO that you are concerned that your team is underpaid, but utterly vital to the success of the company. That would give the CEO a chance to save the company, without allowing him to unfairly torpedo the career of your friend.

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    I think the "friend"-boat has sailed the moment the OP chose to rat out his colleague to their boss. Apart from that, I believe that your answer is the correct one for that situation: To warn the boss about the underpayment of the team without telling names / throwing colleagues under the bus and that this might have the potential to harm the company. – Niko1978 Jun 13 at 7:48

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