Sincerely, Sara: My Boss Wants Me To Do Something Unethical, What Should I Do?

Hi Sara,

Here’s the deal: my boss is asking me to do something that goes against my morals. I’m looking for another job but it will probably take a few months, or longer, to find something. When I interviewed, I was never told how they really operate and I feel misled. It’s not illegal what they want me to do, but it’s devious and violates my beliefs. My only choice seems to be to go against what I stand for, or step up and tell them I don’t agree and probably get fired. I don’t know how I’ll pay my bills if I leave without having another gig lined up.


Stuck Between a Moral Quandary and a Hard Place

Dear Stuck,

Many people can relate to your dilemma. That may or may not make you feel better; but most of us have had our ethics smack up against what was expected or asked of us. If we were only dealt hands that were easy to play we would never find out what we truly value.  But the world is seldom black and white—and it’s in those endless shades of grey that our character, our integrity, and ultimately our destiny, are shaped.

Determine if there is a way to meet your employer’s expectations while minimizing your need to engage in actions that undermine your values. Is there a potential work around—perhaps a short term solution that buys you more time to find another job? Think outside the box; maybe there’s an innovative method that accomplishes the goals your boss has set, but does so in a way that does not exploit or deceive.

If all else fails, it’s time to get tough with your conscience. Sit down and make a list of all your expenses. Calculate how much time, if any, you can afford to be out of work. Are you eligible for unemployment? Do you have any savings that could potentially hold you over, and if so, for how long? Are there family members, a romantic partner, or friends that could put you up, or float you a short term loan, while you continue your job hunt?

A great way to subdue the fear of the unknown is to look it straight in the eye and stare it down. Once you understand the scope of the situation, you can evaluate what you up against and formulate a plan of action. Whatever you do, never simply ignore the situation and hope it will go away. That only leaves you with less moves  and options when things come to a head. 

It’s great to have faith that what is meant to be will occur, but its focus and intention that lead you to the career and life you want. If you don’t have a purpose you will drift any which way the tide sees fit to carry you. Do not waste your energy on worry, since stress alone never solves a problem, and can often make things worse.  Do use that energy positively to  to be proactive in creating the life you want for yourself. Use your faith to champion and strengthen your purpose, focus and drive.

Maybe after taking an honest assessment of your financial state of affairs and all your options, you will determine there is no way you can afford to leave your job and no one you can turn to for assistance. Is there a church you belong to or social services you may have overlooked? If not, then it’s one of those moments that will define who you are and what you are made of, my friend.

Can you do what is expected of you at work, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and sleep at night? Will your actions directly harm people? Are you indirectly hurting children, families or communities? How much damage are you causing to yourself, your clients, your environment or whomever else is suffering because of what you are perpetrating, in order to earn your paycheck? Can you live with that? There is only one person who can answer that question. If your religious beliefs play a part in your objection to the tasks or tactics you are being asked to perform, you can seek the guidance of a religious leader. Maybe he or she can shed light on a solution you are overlooking or provide helpful insights. If you are not religious, maybe you have a mentor or former coach you trust that you can ask for advice.

Whether you choose the rock or the hard place, it will feel harsh when you lay your head down at night. But remember, when you wake up you will have to look at yourself in the mirror. While it’s true we all do things we are not proud of, and make mistakes that we may never have the opportunity to atone for, there have to be some deep and profound values that we refuse to compromise, no matter what the situation.

It sounds like you are steadfast in your beliefs and you are certain that this job requires you to deny your moral code.  So, I would end by advising you to keep in mind: Hard times will pass and employers will come and go throughout your career, but you will be integrally connected to your conscience for your lifetime.

Good Luck and stay strong. One of my favorite sayings to remind myself of the temporary nature of adversity is, “Tough times don’t last, Tough people do”.