Values and Your Work

image courtesy of Darkmoon Art via

We often talk about the value of our work (as we should), and not to undervalue it. We should be paid fairly and appropriately for our work. We should be able to earn a living at it, and turn down work that doesn’t pay fairly for skills. But we also need to consider the values around our work, and those with whom we work.

There’s a lot of noise about politics invading business (when, in reality, it’s the other way around).

It’s always been important (even when not always possible) to understand where your values lie and what lines you will and won’t cross, in the name of “doing your job” or “keeping your job.” Many of us have had to take work, for a period of time, at companies whose values run counter to ours. With any luck (and a lot of work outside of work), it gives us temporary financial stability to find work better suited to us on all levels.

Freelancers have more choice. When we pitch to companies, it behooves us to research them in depth. That goes beyond reading over the website and the employee reviews on various sites (although it includes all of that). It means doing research on the leaders in the company, and seeing where the company places money in the name of “philanthropy.” If a company funds an ideal that causes harm to the environment, to people I care about, or to me, then it’s not a company with which I should work. Even when they pay well.

When I was starting out in the work world, I was told that “professionals” don’t care about the ideology of the company for whom they work. That it doesn’t matter. That, as a “professional” I should rise about ethics concerns and perform the work, or I wasn’t professional.

That, of course, is the crock of (deleted) fed to us to keep us docile, and allowing unethical organizations to profit from our skills. Too often, we have aided companies who actively work against our best interests.

We did what we thought was right at the time. Now that we know better, we can DO better.

Years ago, I was approached by a Major Company to help create a “lifestyle campaign” for their product. A product proven to cause harm. But I was supposed to create a campaign for it, encouraging people to do something that was likely to kill them. I was offered $250,000 for a six-month contract.

It was tempting. But I could not agree to it, because I knew I could not live with myself if I created something successful, that, ultimately, convinced people to make harmful choices.

Believe me, over the years, there were times when I was struggling when I wondered if I should have just sucked it up and signed on. But I’m glad I didn’t.

I recently read a book called VALUES FIRST: HOW KNOWING YOUR CORE BELIEFS CAN GET YOU THE LIFE AND CAREER YOU WANT by Laura Eigel. It’s geared to a much more corporate career ladder than I have any interest in climbing (especially at this stage in my life).  But there are a lot of useful tools in the book to help decide and discern what matters to you in your work life, and then steps to stay true to it.

There’s lots of noise about “cancel culture.” I grew up taught about “conscientious consumerism.” If and when I learn that a company has practices or donates money counter to my values, I stop doing business with them, whenever possible. There are certain businesses into which I don’t set foot, because I already know how despicable their values are, in comparison to mine. I have the right not to do business with them. I have the right to place my money elsewhere, with companies whose vision, missions, and values align better with mine.

As a freelancer, the companies with whom I choose to partner also need to meet those values.

Some of my colleagues shrug and say they look at it as a way of sticking it to these companies, that they are getting money away from the companies, when the companies would be horrified by what these individuals believe. On one level, I understand that. But my disagreement comes in that these colleagues are also making it possible, through their skills, for these companies to cause increased harm.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to accept work from someone actively doing harm? How did you reconcile with that? Have you ever turned down work because of a company’s values?