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Friday, May 27, 2022

What to Do If Your Job Compromises Your Morals

R. Carucci and L. N. Praslova
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 29 APR 22

Here are two excerpts:

The emerging scholarship on reconciling the various terms used to describe responses to moral events points toward a continuum of moral harm. Of course, the complexity and variety of moral situations make any classification imperfect. Situations involving committing moral transgressions are more likely to lead to shame and guilt, while being a victim of betrayal is more likely to result in anger or sadness. In addition, there are also individual differences in sensitivity to morally distressing events, which can be determined by both biology and experience. Nevertheless, here is a useful summary:

  • Moral challenges are isolated incidents of relatively low-stakes transgressions. For example, workers might be instructed to use lower-quality materials in creating a product (e.g., substituting a non-organic product when running out of organic). A manager may require an employee to stay late, as a rare exception. This may result in a somewhat distressing but transitory “moral frustration,” with moderate levels of anger or guilt.
  • Moral stressors can lead to more significant moral distress. This may involve more substantial and/or regular moral transgressions — for example, a manager pushing employees to stay late several times every month, or an HR professional administering a morale survey knowing that the results will never be used, just like all the previous surveys. A dental practice may upsell patients on unnecessary, but not harmful treatments. This may result in negative moral emotions that are bothersome and might be lasting, but do not interfere with daily functioning. (However, in some nursing research, the experience referred to as “moral distress” is seen as very intense, possibly meeting the criteria for moral injury).
  • Injurious events are the most egregious. Executives could pressure a manager into manipulating burned-out employees to regularly sacrifice their time off and well being, while the organization intentionally keeps positions open for months. A health care worker might be required to provide medical treatments that are likely to lead to more treatments even though a cure is available. Situations like these could result in a highly distressing moral injury in which negative moral emotions are sufficiently intense and frequent to interfere with daily functioning. In particular, a person may experience intense shame leading to self-isolation or self-harm, or may quit their job in disgust. This level of moral stress response is similar to and at least partially overlaps with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Moral injuries can leave lasting impacts on our psyche, but they don’t have to remain debilitating. Like other trauma and hurt, we can grow from them. We can find the resilience we need to rise above the injury and restore our moral centers. Sometimes we’re able to take the environments along on that journey, and sometimes we have to leave them. Either way, if you’re carrying the weight of moral injury, don’t wait until it overtakes your whole outlook on life, and yourself. Find the courage to face what you’ve experienced and done, and with it, reclaim the values you hold most dear.