Lawyers are especially at risk of facing ethical dilemmas or situations at odds with their moral compass.
“Moral anxiety” in the workplace refers to the distinctive anxiety we feel when faced with a dilemma or conflict as a result of the disparity between our personal moral compass and that of our firm, company or colleagues.
The term is rarely used in commercial parlance, though often rears its head when ethical scandals rock the commercial world – think Enron or WorldCom. When we untangle the precursors to these events, they identify blatant ethical transgressions which were bound up in the commercial disasters that ensued.
An individual’s decisions are highly influenced by the environment in which they work. Further, moral misconduct is not necessarily the result of a person’s deliberate action, rather it is often related to poor self-awareness of the consequences of their behaviour – it is an ethical blind spot.
Yuval Feldman, a professor of legal research, focuses on the employer to support individuals to maintain moral appropriateness. Research states that, at a minimum, firms should make their ethical guidelines clear by highlighting and role modelling them, encourage transparent conversations on handling the tension between commercial imperatives and moral obligations, provide employees with timely reminders of the implications of their behaviour, and proactively address unethical behaviours rather than turning a blind eye. Perhaps history would have taken a different turn had such checks and balances been applied at the aforementioned ill-fated corporate empires.