Even in my first job, workplace ethics presented a moral minefield.
I was 14 when I landed a job at a gourmet candy shop. No, my concerns didn't revolve around the caloric count of the truffles I sold. Rather, I worried about what I should do when coworkers violated values that had been instilled in me at home, church and at my Christian school.
What if someone dropped the f-bomb? Or gossiped about a colleague? These seemed like major conundrums at the time. In retrospect, they reflect a simpler time.
No matter where you work, and regardless of what you believe, you also likely have to reconcile your values with the realities of your job. And cussing by co-workers is probably the least of your worries.
- Perhaps you work at a convenience store that sells magazines that you find offensive. Where do you draw the line?
- What if you're paid to persuade people to buy a product but you're not convinced that it is really worth the cost?
- Or possibly you're a financial adviser and wonder whether you should invest in companies that aren't aligned with your moral compass.
What happens when the responsibilities you accept as an employee conflict with the teachings of your faith? What if there's a family at home looking to you to provide for them and you feel like you don't have the luxury of being too picky when it comes to making a living?
The older we get, the more complicated these dilemmas might become. Now I'm 28 and a veteran of the worlds of public affairs and communications, and the ethical questions seem to grow in proportion to my responsibility and seniority at the office. As a Christian, I ask myself what was God's original intent for my craft? What is it I am called to do?
I've discovered that my peers, regardless of profession and religious beliefs, also are facing tough questions. I see a desire in young people to connect so that we don't have to face these questions alone.
Supportive peers or faith leaders can serve as sounding boards, but there's also a wave of organizations popping up across the nation that welcome - in fact, invite - these challenging questions. In Colorado, the Denver Institute for Faith & Work will bridge the gap between what we study in the pew on Sundays and how we invest 40-plus hours each week at work. It's creating forums to address these issues so we can better align our career with our creed. You can learn more about its work at DenverInstitute.org.
Our lives and our impact on the world can't be neatly divided between the personal and professional. Regardless of what you believe, can you reconcile how you try to live your life and how you make your living?
Imagine the positive impact that could result - in our workplaces and our communities - if we can find good answers to these questions and better ways of working.
Hamilton serves on the governing board of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work and works as a senior associate at SE2, a Colorado-based communications agency that focuses on public issues. Twitter: @jillyhamilton