Be Clear on What You Stand For

November 2021
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Not long after the small agency I had worked for lost its biggest account and had to furlough me and another employee, I hit paydirt. A large hospital offered me a job in media relations at twice the salary I had been making at the small agency.

The offer came after the interview process but not before I attended a party where I met a nurse who worked at the hospital. She told me about how the hospital performed a controversial procedure that, while legal, did not align with my values. So, when the offer came in, I had some thinking to do. I knew it was highly likely I’d be placed in a position to defend a procedure I could not defend in my heart.

I was out of work and had a career opportunity before me that not only paid well, but would put me on the fast track to even better subsequent opportunities at the same hospital or elsewhere. The only problem is, its values and my own clashed.

I turned the job down, and while it pained me to do so, it firmed my resolve to more fully embrace my core values. That was a turning point for me, one that I’d later revisit time and again when prospective employers or clients would present similar opportunities.

It can be worse.

As difficult as these decisions can be, there’s another type of predicament in which we find ourselves that is even more tricky. What do you do when you’re already working for an employer or client who decides to do something, take a stance on something, or shift its focus so that its values no longer coincide with yours?

The decision is not simply whether to take an assignment, but possibly, to give up a significant source of income.

In these types of situations, the challenge is often not centered on possible violation of the PRSA Code of Ethics. Everything the organization may be doing, and everything you could be asked to do, could be legal and ethical by industry standards.

It can be rewarding.

But you know that your values don’t comport with the shifting values of the organization. What do you do?

My first recommendation is not to do anything abrupt. If you need the money because it’s your primary source of income, then don’t quit. Either start looking for a new job, or look for a way to replace the revenue from that problem client. Unless you are specifically asked to do something unethical, keep working.

Next, make sure not to burn any bridges. Be professional. Once you have found that next opportunity, or completed your task, leave on a good note. It serves no purpose to create a public episode through your exit.

One thing you’ll notice is that I never made mention of the possibility of staying and trying to change things to suit yourself. Yes, we are oftentimes the conscience of our organizations, and there is much we can do if we are smart to influence positive change from the inside. But there comes a time when you have to recognize what you can achieve if anything, how you can achieve it, and if it’s worth the personal cost to you of trying.

If you have come to accept an employer or some other organization has put you in a position of compromising your values which until now were uncompromising, you have to side with those values.

If you do this, not only do I believe that in the long run you will thrive, but you will also find that whatever work you do and wherever you do it, it will be that much more rewarding for you. 

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