Sunday, May 21, 2017

Do our values need to align with our employer's?

If our values don't align with those of our employer, should we leave?

On the surface, the answer seems simple. Of course, we don't want to work for a company whose practices or culture go against the values we hold most dearly.

But if one of the values we also hold is to provide for the well-being of our family members by helping to feed, clothe, educate, and care for them, then it's not always a simple solution for someone to leave a job if there are no other work opportunities in sight.

A reader, let's call her Zandy, although that's not her real name, writes that she started working for her current employer after having lost a couple of previous jobs because of funding cuts. Zandy has and still works for nonprofit organizations where consistent funding can be a challenge.

After losing her last job, Zandy looked around and found an opening that played to her professional strengths. Her only reservation was that the organization's views on same-sex marriage did not mirror her own. This concerned her, but she liked the people who interviewed her, she really liked the type of work she'd be doing on the job, and, given that she had no other offers on the table, she felt that she needed to accept a job offer that would enable her to meet her financial obligations and help keep a roof over her head and food on the table.

Zandy started the job, loved her work, and found her colleagues to be collegial and her supervisor to be supportive. About six months into the job, it became clear to her that because management at her nonprofit was publically vocal in its views on same-sex marriage, she was increasingly feeling that it was not an organization where she should be working. Her values, she writes, simply didn't "line up" with those of her employer.

"I feel like I should leave," Zandy writes. "If I do, I also feel like I should say something to them about why I'm leaving."

On a practical level, if Zandy's abrupt departure would result in placing herself or her family in financial peril, she needs to weigh whether leaving without having a new job lined up is the right thing to do. The same concerns she had about providing for herself and her family when she accepted the job have not gone away.

But if Zandy feels strongly enough that the values of her employer are so offensive to her that she can't do her job, the right thing is for her to leave. Given that she knew what those values were when she accepted the job, it's not clear that calling them out on it as a reason for her departure will do anything more than make her employers wonder why she accepted the job in the first place. As she points out, the company never did anything to hide its views.

Nevertheless, if Zandy believes strongly that what the company is doing is wrong, then to act with integrity the right thing would be to let her current employer know why she has decided to move on. 

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 



Azalea Annie said...

"You can't always get what you want".......sang The Beatles.

Zandy seems to think the world should be exactly as she views it, and the world thinks Zandy should adapt. Yes, there are many people in the world who support same-sex marriage, and there are many more who do not.

The world does not revolve around any one of us. Zandy has a decision to make: stay or go. Make your decision, Zandy, but recognize that there are millions of people in the USA who are indifferent to your feelings and many who have opposite feelings.

Whatever your decision, recognize that you have to live with it. Recognize that the vast majority of people won't know and don't care about your decision.

Anonymous said...

What a remarkable luxury to be able to dismiss a job, the source of your income and your ability to support yourself, without anything else lined up because you disagree with your employer on a single issue. Never mind that you shall never find an employer with whom you agree 100% on every issue. In siding with the non-profit that is not paying you over the for-profit that is, I hope your values serve to clothe, shelter and feed you because your employer will have a dozen people lined up to take your position.

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

Phil Clutts said...

Nobody is in agreement on 100% of the issues with even the most important people in their lives, be they friends, family, work colleagues, or the people they vote for. Unfortunately, the costs of standing on principle are often too great to bear, so we suck it up. Sure, now that Zandy can afford to quit, she should follow her conscience, but let’s just hope she suppresses any sense of moral superiority she might feel, considering that she is forcing her boss to find a replacement after she spent only six months on the job.

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