I was talking to my friend Helen recently about our jobs, specifically about how to be 100% honest at work. Helen described her situation to me. She worked in an environment where she felt like she was the only Christian. There was a lot of swearing and off-color humor. Worse, there was a culture of dishonesty towards the customers. Things were promised on the phone with no intention of ever delivering. Helen felt like she had a responsibility, as a Christian, to be the barrier protecting the customers from the dishonesty. As she said, “If I don’t stand up for them, who will? I think God put me here to be their advocate.”

I saw it differently. I could see that Helen resented her co-workers and didn’t respect her company. She felt trapped in a job she didn’t like. And she was justifying it (to herself, more than anyone) by taking a moral stand. So what lessons can we learn from Helen’s situation?

  1. If you don’t respect your company, you won’t like your job. I’d even go as far as saying that you lose respect for yourself. I worked for 18 months for a company I couldn’t stand. I liked my co-workers, and I was trying to go into a different field. And that’s how I justified it to myself. I probably spent more than year trying to get to a different job in the same industry. My work obviously suffered by my lack of belief in my company. The day I was laid off was one of the happiest days of my life. I can’t describe how relieved I was when I was packing up my desk!

  2. It’s no good trying to save people from the consequences of their actions. At some point, Helen’s company needed to suffer for their dishonestly. Not wishing ill on them, but bad business practices will eventually lead to bad consequences. Bad consequences eventually lead to companies either going out of business, or fixing the underlying problem. All Helen was doing was delaying the consequences, not fixing the problem.

  3. Don’t hesitate to talk to your friends for advice. I was able to help Helen see something she wasn’t seeing – her own frustration. And my friends have helped me see things that I couldn’t see. We grow accustomed to our situation. It helps to have an outsider’s perspective. Not a boss or co-worker, but someone who has no stake in the issue. Helen wasn’t talking about the situation to get career advice, but that’s what ended up happening, because she was willing to discuss it.

  4. Tell people what they need to hear. You don’t do people a favor by shielding them from the truth. As a manager, this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned. For years, I worked for people who didn’t give me enough hard feedback. But then I worked with a manager who didn’t hesitate to tell people when they weren’t performing well, or that they smelled bad, or that they needed to get a haircut. It wasn’t fun to get that kind of feedback, but I learned things I needed to fix to get promoted. No fun then, but I can’t thank her enough now. Listening to Helen describe her job, I couldn’t stop myself from providing feedback that I thought she needed.

So what happened next? There was a job opening in another department at Helen’s job – away from the people in her old department. Helen decided to put her name in, and got the job! She’d been thinking about it, and my outsider’s perspective was just the input she needed to make her decision. I hope she can respect her company more from this perspective. Even more, I hope that the company notices the difference, and fixes the dishonesty problem!