When Ethics and Work Collide

October 26, 2009

You hold your own in a conversation about politics. You donate to your causes, and your wallet speaks for your values you when you shop. But what about when it comes to your career? In this economy, can you afford to turn down a job just because it goes against your ideals?

When I graduated from college, my school urged us to sign “rainbow pledges.” The document stated that as representatives of our alma mater, we’d only accept jobs that, essentially, were good for the earth. Holding my five-years-in-the-making diploma and being convinced I was about to embark on a course to change the world, I signed. And then I accepted a job with a huge, international big-box store selling software wrapped in excessive packaging. What are members of the creative professions to do – hold fast to their ideals or take work when they can get it? This is something that’s been on my mind the past week. First I saw a tweet from graphic designer Joann Sondy: “Yes, I have turned down work based on my set of ethics. Consider myself liberal but sometimes a job comes along that just isn't me.” Then a friend of mine said that despite the fact that he’s desperate for a job, he turned down a well-paying gig with a man running for Congress because the politician supports the Defense of Marriage Act, and my friend is fiercely against it. While I applaud these two for sticking to their guns, on the other hand, isn’t someone else going to get paid to do that work? Did these rejections change the other people’s minds? And will my friend’s ideals be paying his rent next month? Some graphic designers depend on each and every check coming in. Freelancers can’t always predict when work will be steady, and even 9-to-5-ers have been experiencing layoffs in droves. Yet, are your ideals enough of a part of you to be bigger than a career? What do you say: Do politics come into play when you’re weighing job offers?

Jennifer's picture

About Jennifer Moline

Jennifer Moline writes for the PsPrint Blog as well as maintains its Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Pinterest presences. She also guest-blogs for such notable graphic design blogs as Fuel Your Creativity and Inspiredology. She’s previously written about technology and small business for news websites, magazines and newspapers. In her off-hours, Jennifer can be found roughing it in the mountains or tucked away in a movie theater.

Anonymous's picture
January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

That question and response sparked quite a dialogue during the #DCTH last week (10/22); 140 characters doesn't allow for in-depth explanation. I really like the thesis you're putting forth with this article. When I made that statement: "sometimes a job just isn't for me" I was recalling an assignment I was given as an in-house designer for a very (very) risque Las Vegas casino. I'm not offended by the the human form -- it's just that I believed my style of design probably wasn't a good fit for that particular client. And, yes, since then, an occasional inquiry results in taking a pass because I just wasn't interested in the project.

Am I sacrificing a paying client? Probably. If I (we) sacrifice our OWN standards/ethics than what have we truly gained?

Anonymous's picture
January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

I once knew a fellow freelancer who vowed she would work on any account except defense contractors. She was talking about Northrup and the stealth bomber. I wonder if she knew that General Motors, General Electric, Sunbeam, etc. are also in the war business?

I've never had the luxury to turn down work, except I have resigned 2 cheap clients who wanted to rip me off.

What are your values? And at the end of the day, do you lose sleep over your choices?

Jennifer's picture
Jennifer January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

Laura: I agree -- most folks have to allow some give on their end to keep the checks coming in. Where does one draw the line? Do you have time to investigate the political donors lists each year?

Anonymous's picture
January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

I believe that we are responsible for our own choices. And thus, accepting or declining any project for whatever reason is a matter of one's own consciousness.

People do many things based on their own set of values and ethics, for example: spouse/partner, clothing, spirituality & religion, education, ballot box, shopping, news outlets, etc. There are so many professionals that work within their own value sets and are very successful.

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