How should we address issues of morality in the workplace?

Hello Andy, thanks for being here. I wonder how you would address issues of morality in the work place. for example, my office manager told me that “people should leave their morals at the door when they come to work” (I wondered what she would think if I left my moral of do not steal at the door and swiped $15,000!) But how do I address this in the workplace in a gentle and respectful manner? Also, what do you do when your morals conflict with another’s morals. for example, I am asked to prescribe sex change hormones to people if they ask me to, now my moral is this is wrong, but there moral is it is wrong not to treat them…so how do we reconcile our differences in a peaceful manner? Thank you! Megan Lykke MD

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Megan – this is such a great question and I really commend you for asking it. There must be many others out there in the RZIM Connect family who can relate to the issue you have raised one way or another. From my former career in business I too can recall very clearly some of the pressures which present themselves in the area of moral integrity – and this is something we get asked to speak on quite a bit as a team, especially during weeks such as Festival of Thought. So a great question!

The comment that your office manager made about “leaving your morals at the door” is, I think, right in line with the crux of the debate about hope for our economies and the societies driven by them. The origins of this view are complex but perhaps the most famous statement of such a position came from American economist Milton Friedmann. In a 1970 New York Times Magazine article, Milton claimed (and I paraphrase) that “the only purpose of business is to generate profit no matter what.” The flaws of this position seem obvious, as you rightly hint through your example of stealing $15,000. Doesn’t more integrity in business seem desirable? Yet many have and continue to go about their careers with an ethic which calls for deep moral inconsistency. Where has it got us?

I am moved to mention Stephen Green, former Chairman of the HSBC banking group. Green wrote a set of reflections on the financial crisis of 2007-11 which was very insightful – sharing his views on why it occurred, what the moral failures leading up to it were etc. etc. One the issues he picked up on was this theme of disconnectedness which your question is addressing – espousing one set of values in one context and another set in another context – whether voluntarily or by enforcement. His expression for it was the “compartmentalization of life” – the dividing up of life into different realms, with different ends and subject to different rules.

If the lessons of 2007 are an indication that integrity is desirable we arrive at the question of which form of integrity is best. Consistent adherence to any set of moral values doesn’t necessarily lead to things worth celebrating, but as Christians this is an area we can take great encouragement about having Good News to share! That said, as you suggest, we can have significant disagreement about which “integrating factors” are the right ones to align our lives to and seek to live consistently by. I have found that this can often be a window through which we can discern the relevance of the Gospel – help in understanding why it is that we are “disconnected” as people. Disconnections within our own thoughts and feelings at times, disconnections between our private and public lives all can all be explained through our natural state of disconnection with God. But remedy is offered to us at the cross.

Thank you also for raising the particular example of being asked to set aside moral objection to the prescription of drugs whose effect you are not in agreement with. I am unsure if you are a practicing medic or nurse, whether this is a live issue for you, or whether you raise it more so as a thought experiment. Clearly the response and its practical dimensions would sound different – but in any case, this is an extremely challenging area and one which has not just moral, but legal ramifications. Employment law contains the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for various forms of conscientious objection which may become increasingly relevant as this issue and other related medical issues evolve but I shall have to restrict my remarks to that pending further understanding!

Megan – I hope you found this response helpful overall, thank you again for such a great question to get our discussion started this week!

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Andy, Thank you so much, this is very helpful. I like the reference to Stephen Green as living one morality in once place and another morality in another place is not a consistent or advisable lifestyle. This is a useful example.
As far as my particular case I am a family medicine physician who teaches as a family medicine residency program. I do have the right in my personal practice to contentiously object, but I am also educating residents who ask me really good questions all the time. I can see that it is very important for me to have valid medical reasons for what I do, but in addition I get the question of “Why would you impose your morality on someone else who does not believe what you do?” So I need to have an answer ready for that. Certainly discussing respectful disagreement and a consistent life is important.

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