The recent dust-up at the Club Jager bar in Minneapolis reflects a classic clash between the values of the owner of a business and its employees.
Employees walked off the job once they learned the owner had given a campaign contribution to the 2016 U.S. Senate campaign of David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Gutsy employees making a statement at the cost of their jobs.
The question arises: Can you work for a boss you don’t respect?
In a perfect world, employees would never choose to work for someone they did not have high regard for. Reality, however, is that most employees do not get to choose their bosses nor do they have the luxury of exiting a job when they are staring down their financial security.
We know how to define illegal activity and harassing behavior in the workplace. However, matters get complicated when we start judging another person’s values, morals and ethics. These terms are commonly used interchangeably since they each provide behavioral rules. But, there are a few distinctions:
Our values define who we are. They are deeply personal and not all are equal. They change as we grow. Moral conduct implies the highest standards of behavior guided by universal principles. Ethics describes the social system in which those morals are applied. Ethics usually refers to a set of rules or expectations that are accepted by a group of people whereas a person’s morals stay private.
If the law is the minimal standard, and ethical standards a reasonable expectation, then a moral code is the highest personal standard. In short, the law tells you what you should not do, ethics tell you what you should do, and morals tell you what you should aspire to do.
If our morals and values are in alignment, we can relate to others in an ethical way. We can also face ourselves directly in the mirror. Remember — at the end of the day, you go home with yourself!
But can’t we compartmentalize our workplace and personal lives? Sure, but this is where the trouble starts. You come to the workplace with your own set of values and morals. The greater the difference in how you behave in the workplace and in your personal life, the greater the stress. If you hold conflicting ethical standards, at home and at work, then you lead two lives — one fake and the other organic. You can do it for a while, but it is not sustainable or healthy.
What if you like your company’s mission, your responsibilities and salary, but have a boss who does not share your morals and values?
Although you cannot change the fundamental power relationship with your supervisor, the interpersonal dimension of your relationship with your boss is elastic. You can improve it by changing how you interact with each other. Ethically impaired bosses can also move on (or out), change and/or even just grow up. It might be worth staying in the game to gain the experience and, also, to see if you can effect some positive changes. Remember, none of us can control what other people do; all we can control is how we react to what other people do. And, it is possible your reaction can change what other people do.
Supporting a boss or company’s mission whose core values starkly oppose yours can put your well-being at risk, however, if you do not remain true to your own morals and values. By aligning these with your behavior on the job, you protect yourself by creating a red line that no one can cross.
This will require a continuous personal audit. Are you doing your best? Do you find you are co-opting your principles and/or compromising yourself? Are you starting to lower your own standards to adjust to your circumstances — placing yourself on the first step of a slippery slope? Is your decision to stay in the job taking a toll on your mental and physical health?
In your ongoing evaluation of your circumstances, be totally honest with the question, “Am I willing to pay the price of leaving this job?” At any certain time, you may well answer “no” or, “not now, anyway.” If so, acknowledge this and leave it at that for the moment. Don’t try to rationalize your unwillingness to move forward with a change by whitewashing the original cause of your concern. In other words, don’t try to justify your unwillingness to act by painting a wrong as a right. That will simply erode your own ethical standards.
Everyone has the right to make their own choices at any time. And the price you may pay for not being able to separate your personal beliefs from your job responsibilities may be too high for you. Then again, like the Club Jager gang, it might be a price you are willing to pay. Only you can decide.
Sometimes, doing the right thing is its own reward — and, that may be all the reward you may need.
Nan DeMars is president of Executary Services, an ethics training, search and consulting firm in Edina.