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Morality in the workplace.
This morning I was half asleep and listing to the Diane Rehm show. The second hour of the show I always find the less interesting because it usually focuses on some topic related to a book. The first hour sticks to current events and political topics. As a political junkie I usually hit snooze as the second hour comes on and sleep in on those days I have the leisure to do so.
However she had a very interesting guest on during hour two this morning; Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education who was talking about his new book, "Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work". What caught my attention was the callers that related their own struggles of trying to be a moral person in the workplace.
At about 30:33 into the show in response to a caller Dr. Gardner outlines coping mechanisms for people in a workplace that feel pressured to do things they feel are wrong. (paraphrased)
I would say it its safe to say that we all face moral decisions in the workplace, principally because the goal of most businesses is to extract as much money as possible from their customers. There are two main ways this is accomplished, one - make your product so valuable it is worth it in the eyes of the buyer or, two - cheat, cut corners or lie. You can succeed in a competitive environment by doing either/or. Invariably many businesses will engage in shady practices in order to gain an edge over their competitors. These may range from the overtly immoral to the slightly unethical. A salesman that neglects to mention a downside to a product he's selling may be unethical but most people would hardly go so far to call him/her immoral. Most of us will endure a certain amount of shadiness as the price of keeping our job.
What effect does this have on the morality of a nation?
I feel we neglect the corporate environment as a major influence on our societal sense of morality, right and wrong. I've always resented that the business environment has been insistent on maintaining a prejudice for well dressed and clean cut people despite our own knowledge that appearance has little real value beyond playing to our biases for attractive people. If you go to work everyday and rationalize the behaviors that you have to engage in on a daily basis what effect will that have on lowering your tolerance for immoral behavior? What happens when your own sense of right and wrong becomes an impediment to your success at work? Seeing how most of us don't have the choice of quitting our jobs we resort to bending our moral antenna while we work.
I have long been a fan of the guerilla warfare tactic, doing what is right while playing the part of the dutiful employee. I often wonder if the crime of deception is worse than the actions I wish to avoid. I am willing to accept a certain image of incompetence in exchange for a clearer conscience. In general I steer clear of middle management positions where I feel the greatest moral compromise is required. I also accept that its possible to completely separate your working life from your personal life, but I wonder if its possible to do so completely. Can you really be a lying tryannt all day long and a loving teddy bear at home? You find yourself thinking this as you realize that your asshole boss has a wife and kids, friends and family.
I lament that it becomes necessary that some (because I am not saying ALL) people have to suspend their moral values while in the workplace. Would it not be better if only really nasty evil people had to do nasty evil things? How we respond to this conundrum is important. The worst response would be to completely rationalize your behavior and allow your workplace behavior to affect your private life. It is better to recognize what you do and feel bad about it, realize that you might do so for reasons larger than the cost and make some effort of atonement in your private life.
The most common response is acceptance, "we do what we have to do" "I'm not going to feel bad about it" and "it doesn't make me a bad person".
Another bright spot in this morning's show was hearing Dr. Gardner call Dr. John Marburger, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy "a prostitute" (27:00). The whole show was a fun listen. Give it a try!
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