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Should you take a job that conflicts with your values?

With a growing number of sportspeople taking a stand against sponsorship deals because of ethical concerns, it’s clear that corporate decisions and behaviour are influencing where we work and what we’re prepared to tolerate.

It begs the question: even if you’re not a top sportsperson, can you afford to put your morals first or simply be a bit pickier when you’re looking for a job? Are you complicit in questionable ethical behaviour of your employer, or are you simply a young person looking for a regular salary and a leg up in your career?

Unsurprisingly, balancing the practicalities of earning a living with your values and personal ideology is a contested and deeply murky space, explains Associate Professor Ambika Zutshi from the Department of Management at Deakin Business School. ‘The responses to these questions are definitely not straightforward.’

Aligning the individual and the collective

One key issue is whether by accepting a job and working for an organisation you’re acting on behalf of yourself or as part of a collective, says Dr Andrew Creed, Assoc. Prof. Zutshi’s colleague at Deakin Business School. Do you automatically become an ambassador for the beliefs of the organisation you work for?

‘If your own personal goals happen to align with those of the chosen organisation, then you will feel and behave with moral alignment,’ he says.

Even if they don’t, or there’s slight disconnect, joining an organisation might shift your personal beliefs to align with the organisation more closely. ‘Your decision to work for others is inherently driving you to agree with the goals and objectives of that collective,’ Dr Creed says.

That’s not to say you’ll become a brainwashed corporate drone. But Dr Creed says it’s important to understand that by joining an organisation your individual views will in some way interact with those of the group.

‘When you choose to work for an organisation, you’re taking your own moral underpinning into the realm of collective views,’ he says. ‘Expect dilemmas and conundrums in this environment.’

Weighing pros and cons

How corporate ethics rank on your list of preferences when you’re looking for a job, and what constitutes questionable behaviour, are also subject to substantial degrees of individual difference. What’s unethical to you might seem totally above board to someone else.

Dr Creed says some people believe they’re ‘absolutely justified to make a strong principled stand’, while others prefer the status quo to be maintained.

Plus, there’s the simple reality of needing a job to cover living expenses, especially when you’re in the early years of your working life. ‘The realities of life, your personal commitments and the need to pay bills at any stage of career can dictate your choices and what you wish for in an ideal employer,’ Assoc. Prof. Zutshi says.

‘These decision points are further exacerbated when you’re starting your career journey, especially as you likely have aspirations of being successful and making a name for yourself.’

For sportspeople who are already successful, she says, weighing up the morality of a professional decision can be a very different kind of dilemma.

‘Public stances raise the question of the intention behind the public communication,’ Assoc. Prof. Zutshi says. ‘Is it to get media attention for their own career progression or does the individual strongly believe in the cause itself?

‘In many cases, but not always, these individuals have had a successful career and are generally in the process of transitioning to a new opportunity.’

Navigating a personal decision

Ultimately, whether you can afford to put your morals front-and-centre when you’re searching for work is entirely up to you.

‘It is not a black and white decision; rather, there is a spectrum of grey when we have to make a choice between a having a paid job versus following our morals,’ Assoc. Prof. Zutshi says.

Dr Creed recommends tuning into to what you truly value while still acknowledging the opinions of others. ‘Clearly knowing your own beliefs and understanding you will encounter people and groups who harbour opposite beliefs is really the best you can do.

‘That, and having tolerance and a desire to learn more about why these differences of opinion are so impassioning when you become immersed in scandal and disagreement.’

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Assoc. Prof. Ambika Zutshi
Assoc. Prof. Ambika Zutshi

Associate Professor,

Faculty of Business and Law,

Deakin Business School

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