Rajat Joshi
Hr Consulting ,trainer -creative Thinking
Learning And Developement - Corp.hrd

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The Moral Dilemmas of Young Professionals

by Mallory Stark

What influences the moral compasses of young professionals? Harvard

Graduate School of Education researchers discuss their new book on

ethical conflicts faced by generations at the start of their career


Market pressures and the speed of modern-day business are placing

severe ethical demands on young professionals. Are they selling out

to further their careers, or doing the right thing by their moral


The picture is complicated, and has been recently documented via the

Harvard Graduate School of Education's GoodWork Project. A recent

book on the research, Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral

Dilemmas at Work (Harvard University Press, 2004), was written by

researchers Wendy Fischman, Becca Solomon, Deborah Greenspan, and

faculty member Howard Gardner (renowned for his theory of multiple

intelligences). The study looked at on-the-job moral dilemmas faced

by a hundred professionals between the ages of fifteen and thirty-

five in three professions: journalism, science, and acting.

The results are unsettling. Often the young professionals know the

right thing to do, but instead cross that line to further their

careers by bending the rules or engaging in morally questionable

behavior. They look for jobs with big money instead of big


Employers need to consider these findings as they think about their

own corporate values and as they construct management development and

mentoring programs.

Authors Fischman, Solomon, Greenspan, and Gardner collaborated on

this e-mail interview.

Mallory Stark: Is this tension over the dual meaning of being a "good

worker"—that is, being skilled at a job as well as doing the job in

an ethical manner—inherent to the younger generation of workers?

A: The challenges to doing work that is at once excellent in quality

and socially responsible—"good work"—are salient for professionals

across stages and fields. Young people still developing the skills

and integrating the values of their professions, however, may be

particularly vulnerable to this tension.

Many of the young participants in our study, for example, easily

identified what they felt was most responsible and "right," but felt

that they were excused or even compelled to compromise these morals

in order to advance in their careers at this early stage. Young

journalists frequently cited interviewing bereaved families as

something they believed to be intrusive and inappropriate. While some

found ways to refuse, most complied with their editors' demands

explaining that, as they advanced in their careers, they would have

the luxury to avoid or reject such assignments without risking their


At the same time, there is immense pressure on professionals from

novices to veterans in today's marketplace to meet bottom-line

demands. Where scientists in the past focused on contributing to

knowledge or curing disease, for example, today they may be searching

for lucrative treatments to increase a biotech's market share value.

This is not to say that financial concerns have not always had some

role in professions—scientists have always competed for grants, for

example. But the market pressures of today combined with the

lightning speed advances in technology are unprecedented. Young

workers are developing in a different cultural climate than their

predecessors, and have the complex task of learning to negotiate the

often competing demands of excellence, ethics, and earnings.

Q: Were mentors and role models an important force in the experiences

of the professionals in your study?

A: Interpersonal influences are undeniably crucial forces in any

aspect of development, including development within a profession.

Ideally, young people should choose their parents well, and it helps

if they choose their mentors well. Of course, they have more options

in the latter category.

Young professionals need to be reflective about the purposes of their

work and proactive about the approaches they take.

As might be expected, parents were most likely to be described as

role models of hard work and discipline among younger participants in

our study, whether or not they worked in the same field that their

children pursued. Many of the participants also described important

teachers who guided them in learning at least the fundamentals of

their craft. For the most part, however, young professionals did not

speak of close meaningful mentor relationships in their professional

training and workplace, especially as compared to more veteran

workers' discussions of mentors and paragons in their own

professional development.

As young people advanced in their professions, however, we found that

the function and importance of mentors and role models differed

across profession. Young professional journalists in particular

lamented the lack of mentors on the job, though those who had

attended journalism school often spoke admiringly of professors, and

almost all the young journalists looked to exemplary institutions

(e.g., the New York Times) as standards.

While young actors looked to distant luminaries as models in their

work, they were more likely to depend upon themselves and to look to

their immediate theater community than to cite individual mentors.

In contrast, in the regimented career trajectory of science, close

formal mentorship was central throughout training. While this formal

mentoring was described positively by some, others spoke about

challenging and even competitive relationships with mentors.

Overall, we were concerned that very few participants in our study

described mentors who exemplified "good work."

Q: How did professional norms affect the ethical behaviors of the

professionals in your study?

A: Professional norms heavily influenced the ways in which our

participants approached their work. In many cases, the norms

surrounding a profession were shaped by financial considerations,

such as increasing newspaper circulation and securing grant monies.

Young professionals repeatedly expressed anxiety over demands to

compromise their personal values in the pursuit of profit. They were

asked, for example, to sensationalize news stories, to publish

scientific results before all the data were collected, and to portray

characters in stereotypical ways. The participants in our study often

complied with such pressures, however, in order to secure or to

advance their places within the profession.

There were cases in each profession, however, where participants

defied such pressures and acted in accordance with their own belief

systems. These individuals acknowledged the financially-driven

demands of their superiors as well as the possible ramifications of

noncompliance. Nonetheless, they relied on their own moral compass in

guiding their behaviors or, in some cases, considered leaving the

profession if the pressures against pursuing their work in an ethical

way became too great.

Q: What recommendations can you offer to young professionals who

would like to enhance their performance as "good workers"?

A: Generally speaking, young professionals need to be reflective

about the purposes of their work and proactive about the approaches

they take in their work in order to produce "good work" and

become "good workers."

It is imperative to think about the consequences of work not only for

yourself, but also for surrounding peers and colleagues, and for the

wider society. Young people need to ask themselves, "What are the

implications of my work and what are the ramifications of the work-

related decisions I make?" Building in periodic reflection about the

kind of work you set out to do, the ways in which you go about doing

it, and on the final product, will increase the likelihood of "good


Specifically, we describe three "levers" to good work which can be

used by young professionals as well as by the veteran professionals

who guide the work of younger professionals:

Mission: Define and articulate the mission of your particular

profession and whether the institution in which you work and the

colleagues with whom you work carry out work that is in accordance

with this mission.

Model: Identify models of admirable workers who exemplify the kind of

worker you want to become. Ask yourself: What is this person's

motives for doing work? What kind of decisions does this person make

during difficult situations? How does this individual's work

contribute to society? It might be useful to think about paragons as

well—individuals whom you may not know personally (e.g., Edward R.

Murrow, Albert Schweitzer, John Gardner).

Mirror: Reflect on the decisions you make and approaches you take by

asking yourself two questions: Am I proud of the kind of worker I am?

Would I want to live in a society in which every member of my

profession carried out work in the ways it is currently executed?

Responding to these questions regularly can keep professionals honest

and may offer opportunities to correct a misguided action or decision.

It is also important for young people who have career interests, but

not a particular job, to also consider the consequences their work

has on others and the impact that "good work," as well as compromised

or bad work, has on our society. Towards this end, we are currently

in the process of developing a curriculum for high school students to

bridge the gap between research and practice and to prepare young

students for the kind of pressures and challenges they will

undoubtedly face in the workplace. This curriculum, A Toolkit for

Workers in Progress, aims to introduce the concept of "good work" so

that they have a framework to use as they consider the kind of

workers they are now and the kinds of professionals they want to


Q: What were the biggest surprises that you encountered in your


A: These were four areas:

Prevalence and impact of ethical dilemmas for young people. Almost

all the young professionals we interviewed dealt with some kind of

ethical dilemma in their work. These ethical dilemmas played out

differently depending on age, profession, workplace settings,

personality, and available support structures, but the tensions often

caused individuals to act in ways that conflicted with the values and

intentions they espoused for their work. Even though young

professionals described values such as honesty, integrity, and

professional relationships as important to them, they were willing to

compromise these values in order to satisfy a professional demand,

compete with their peers for recognition, or gain rewards for their

long hours and low pay. Young professionals just starting out in

their careers felt that there was no choice—if they were going to

stay in their jobs, or even get a job, they may have to cheat just

to "keep up" and "make it" in the field.

Justifications of unethical acts. Young professionals were upfront

about the unethical tactics they used at work to negotiate difficult

situations. When we talk about these unethical acts, people are

always surprised that the participants actually admitted to these

kinds of behaviors (e.g., lying about professional identity in order

to get a story, fabricating data in a lab report). The important

finding here is that most young professionals did not feel badly or

ashamed about their unethical practices because in their minds, the

ends justify the means. As long as the unethical approach was in the

service of getting out an important story for society to read,

publishing a vital finding in a journal, or sending an essential

message to the audience, in their eyes, it was necessary and

not "wrong."

Genetics has become a lucrative field, and they wanted their piece of


Lack of "deep" mentoring. Many young professionals identified a lack

of support from—and even competition with—authority figures,

including supervisors, teachers, academic advisors, and directors.

Lab supervisors and editors pressure young professionals to publish

their findings early and to get the story quickly, using any means

possible. Interestingly, Jayson Blair, who was a subject in our study

and did not show up twice for the interview, is an example of a young

journalist at the New York Times whose "mentors" modeled superficial

traits—glibness, speed, flash—rather than due diligence and

integrity. As a result, young professionals, like Blair, compromise

their own values and the kind of work they want to do in order to

meet demands without confrontation. Certainly, young actors would

rarely confront a director with a disagreement about a script's

interpretation or with an interpersonal issue with a fellow cast

member. Of those young professionals who described a close mentor

relationship, some described ways in which their mentors advised them

to take an unethical route for the reward and recognition they would

receive. Some of these mentors admitted that in order to "make it,"

young professionals will have to learn how to navigate the "real

world" of their profession.

Effect of market forces. It is especially hard to do "good work"

during times when the market is the bottom line. We see the changes

everywhere: commercialization on television, in newspapers, and on

Broadway. What matters is what sells.

Particularly dangerous for young people, we've noticed, is that

market forces not only influence the ways in which young people think

about and carry out their work, but also in what career they choose

to pursue. Actors were concerned about the decreasing theater venues

(and the "Disneyfication" of live theater) and some of the

journalists contemplated leaving the profession altogether.

Additionally, of the twelve promising high school scientists we

interviewed, who won international science competitions and were

working in university laboratories, none expressed interest in

continuing in academic research. Instead, they all wanted to pursue

the more profitable fields of biotechnology, medicine, or

pharmaceuticals. These young students had seen the life of post-

doctoral students—the incredible long hours and low pay—and they did

not want it. Genetics has become a lucrative field, and they wanted

their piece of it.

From India, Pune
This is Like principle put to test ... but more than that ..People think abt their survival in organisation in life .. Practically envt is so disturbing .. people are forced to do wrong ..
From India, Mumbai
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