Sunday, March 05, 2017

Does gratitude for a job mean never being able to leave?

How much does any of us owe an employer who gave us a job when we needed one most?

When a reader, S.N., was "most desperate," a friend offered to connect her to someone who might be able to offer her a job. "To show my gratitude, I have worked long hours for which I am not compensated," writes S.N., adding, "and that's fine."

But she also writes that she has withstood being treated badly. Each time, she has stayed loyal to the company and continued to try to do her work.

"I have worked as late as the bosses asked, on every occasion, including Saturdays," she writes. "I am grateful."

Recently, she claims that a co-worker did something inappropriate, but reported the action to "the bosses, under the guise of loyalty," even though the co-worker made it sound like he wasn't the culprit. "Actually, it was to gain favor" with the bosses, writes S.N.

S.N. believes that the culprit knows she knows what he did and how he tried to cover his tracks. When she tried to tell the bosses that he was the culprit behind the inappropriate behavior, they took no action, other than to continue making demands that she work more than she had originally agreed to work.

Now, S.N.'s work life is even more miserable. The demands that she work long hours and now to turn a blind eye to a co-worker's actions have "destroyed" her work life.

"When can I stop being grateful and leave to find other work?" she asks.

S.N. did the right thing by reporting the co-worker's actions to her bosses if she believed what he did crossed an ethical line. That the bosses chose not to believe her puts her in a tough position where she now believes they are punishing her for speaking out. But it sounds as if she believes the treatment she has received since beginning to work this job has been miserable from the get go.

It was good of a friend to help S.N. find work when she needed it. The sense of relief S.N. must have felt at being able to work to earn a paycheck must have been palpable. It's no wonder that she feels grateful both to her friend and to the bosses who hired her.

But it is clear that the bosses are not giving S.N. a handout. She works for the money she earns, often putting in hours far beyond what she had agreed to and anticipated. The bosses are getting something out of S.N. working for them as much as she is from having been offered the job.

The time to start looking for another job was as soon as S.N. felt she was being treated unfairly. She has no obligation, no matter how grateful she is, to stay on a job any longer than she wants. This would be true even if she enjoyed the job. Her only obligation is to do good work while she works for the company.

It's clear that S.N. is miserable at work and that she believes her bosses are not taking her concerns seriously. The right thing is to start looking for another job as soon as possible. When she finds the new job, the right thing will be to do good work on that job for as long as she decides to keep it. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do people overly think that just because a company employed them at a time of need, that the person unnecessarily must continue to show allegiance and thanks to the same company, especially if the company no longer deserves their thanks. I guess we have been "taught" to be thankful for good luck in jobs. It's good to be thankful, but the company that employs you should continue to deserve our allegiance.

Charlie Seng

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