How to Survive in an Unethical Workplace

by Rose Mathews
Plan your escape when you're in a job that requires you to compromise your ethics.

Plan your escape when you're in a job that requires you to compromise your ethics.

Starting a new job can be exciting -- you have the opportunity to create new professional experiences, connect with new colleagues, and learn new skills. However, this initial excitement may wane as red flags pop up -- for example, if you discover your employers, or your fellow employees, are engaged in unethical behavior. If quitting isn't an option, it's necessary to come up with a coping strategy.

Consult a Mentor

Seeking the advice of a fellow professional who is in your field, but outside of your workplace, can help you gain perspective. A mentor can affirm that you are in fact in an unethical workplace -- or he can suggest options you may not have thought of to solve your dilemma. If a mentor does not have a specific answer to your ethics problem, he can offer advice on a professional organization or an attorney who may be able to advise you.

Use Company Policy

If your boss tells you to do something you think is unethical, ask if the request is in keeping with company policy. This signals to your employer you have misgivings about behaving unethically, and also that you're thinking of the company's best interest. Always be careful when going over your immediate supervisor's head. But, if you have reason to believe ethics were violated, or worse, laws were broken, consider bringing your concerns to your boss's boss, or to a human resources supervisor.

Speak Up

It can be tempting to "go along to get along." But maybe you don't have to. Voice your concerns about unethical behavior to the supervisor or colleague who is behaving unethically. Refuse to participate in sabotaging a co-worker. When asked to do something that goes against your values say "no," and explain your reasons for doing so. Being confrontational in this way may have consequences in the short term -- you may become an outcast at work, or worse -- lose your job -- but in the long term you will have protected your reputation, and kept your conscience clean.

Get Out

The availability of good jobs fluctuates with the economy, but jobs are out there, and as soon as you realize you're at a job that compromises your ethics, it's a good idea to start looking. Network with people who have also left your workplace, maybe for similar reasons. Join professional associations. Get your resume in front of potential employers. While you're looking for a new job, keep your head down and work hard. Remember to have a life outside of work that is fulfilling and sustaining.

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