If I Work For A Bad Company, Am I The Bad Guy Too?

Illustrated by Michaela Early.
Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a column to help you handle problems of all kinds. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous, obvs). Got a question? Email me at Dear Kelsey, I recently took a marketing job at a bank that specializes in rural lending. I knew when I accepted the position that I would need to be comfortable around cattle ranchers and agriculture professionals. But soon after, I discovered the bank sponsors events and trade shows to promote and protect trophy- and big-game-hunting — namely the hunting of African animals like elephants, rhinos, and lions. I believe trophy-hunting is morally reprehensible, but as a liberal woman in a very conservative Texas community, I've had to bite my tongue often to avoid getting punished or discriminated against for my political beliefs. I would love to quit in protest, but I don't want to make a rash decision, especially with no other work lined up. How should I play this situation? Sincerely, Sticking To Her Guns Dear STHG, Years ago, I took an assistant job for a company that “fixed” college applications. I don’t think they did anything technically illegal; they didn’t actually write your personal essay for you — but they really, really, really helped. It was a very successful service. They would essentially take a student and package him or her into an extremely appealing applicant — in exchange for a fee that might run as much as (or more than) a year of college itself. I quit after less than a month, and I wish I could say it was because of some grand moral dilemma. I knew there was something icky about the situation, but I quit because the job didn’t pay enough for me to live on and was far too time-consuming for me to get a second job. Plus, my boss was terrifying. To be clear: High-end college counseling is not the same as trophy-hunting. I tell you this not to compare, but just to say that we’ve all been there. We’ve all been in a situation where we looked around and realized we were working for something or someone we could not personally support. Even at the most ethical companies, you stumble into people or situations that challenge the strength of your own morality. Facing those scenarios is the cost of doing business, no matter what business you’re in. But, remember: A challenge is really just an opportunity. (Just one you didn’t ask for.) You’re right about one thing, though. This is not the time for rash decisions. First, take a step back and think about the big picture. When you’re stuck in the daily routine, it’s hard to get perspective, but right now, it’s crucial to remember what your overall goal is. Where do you want to be in five or 10 years? Do you have a dream job in mind, and if so, is this current job helping you toward it somehow? Or are you unsure what it is you want to do long-term? If you are still figuring it all out, start with what you know you don’t want to do. That’s a lesson we often forget, but it’s just as important to figure that out. Next, look at your short-term situation. You say you have no job prospects right now, so what about savings? What other resources might you rely on if you did leave this job (or if you lost it)? How much are you willing or able to sacrifice to get out of this situation? Could you get a roommate or stay with your parents if need be? Would you be willing to find short-term work, like babysitting or temping, in order to stay afloat before finding something new? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you have some good intel on just how unhappy this job is making you. If the answer is “no” or even “not really,” that doesn’t automatically make you a monster. It just gives you more intel on yourself.
Illustrated by Michaela Early.
I might have stayed in that sketchy assistant job if I’d known it would offer me the skills and experience to help me toward my dream job. But I realized it was a dead end, and one I could get trapped in if I didn’t get out fast. I also knew I could probably get another assistant gig (a less sketchy one), and I had no shame (well, not a lot of shame) about asking my parents for some short-term help if I needed it. But that was my situation. I’m not exactly proud of it, but I can live with it. I have to. Right now, you’ve got to answer all those long-term and short-term questions for yourself. That’ll let you know what you can live with. Get clear on what you’re aiming for, whether it’s a big-picture career goal or a short-term goal of staying afloat (while actively seeking other job prospects). Knowing what the end game is will help you make decisions on a daily basis. It will tell you which battles to pick. And speaking of battles, remember that there’s more than one way to fight. If you fear retribution for speaking up for your beliefs (quick reminder: that’s illegal), then know that there are many ways to champion the causes that matter to you. If you decide to stay, then I say work on winning hearts and minds — but why not give a piece of that paycheck to organizations working to end trophy-hunting? (I’ve listed some options below.) Is it a perfect solution? No. But, for now at least, it’s something. And doing something is always better than doing nothing. Sincerely, Kelsey Animal Welfare Organizations:
Born Free
Humane Society International
International Fund For Animal Welfare
Animal Defense League Fund
African Wildlife Foundation
Big Cat Rescue

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series