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Working in an Unethical Environment

DILEMMA:

I am a middle-level manager in a Midwest company. The place I now work has become increasingly frustrating as they have made promises they have not kept, they have participated in behavior I regard as unethical, and I find it increasingly difficult to go to work.

I have tried working things out with my boss, but many of the issues are out of his control. In the past when I have been in a situation like this, I simply resigned and moved on to another assignment, but that is very difficult to do this time for several reasons: I am older and sense the market will not be as flexible for someone my age; my husband recently started his own business and in the startup phase I am the one providing insurance and stable income; and the present economic conditions simply make the market less inviting right now.

Do you have any advice for me?

Wanting to be Ethical

RESPONSE:

Dear Wanting,

You are in a difficult position. You didn’t provide any details of the type or severity of the unethical behavior practiced at your workplace, but it is important to note that there are no perfect organizations. Every organization (in every industry) engages in behavior of some sort that can be considered unethical. Your own experience attests to this fact as you have faced similar circumstances in the past. So, moving on to a new employer (if you can get hired at this point) offers no guarantee that you will be free from facing the type of dilemma that is now in front of you.

There is no easy answer here, but you may want to consider the severity of the behavior in your current situation. Is it severe enough that people are getting hurt and that the organization and your own career will be damaged in the future? Is it worth staying to try to make changes rather than to leave and let a bad situation get worse?

Kenman Wong
Professor of Ethics, School of Business and Economics
Seattle Pacific University

If you have an ethical dilemma at your workplace,
email Ethics at Work (eaw@ethix.org).
We will publish some of these in
Ethix along with our diagnosis.

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