Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Resignation in Protest?

Some thoughts in the wake of a discussion on resignation in protest:

Many people resign in protest over a policy or practice that they believe is unethical or unwise. Although it is nice to see a person who is willing to take a stand, the question of whether a resignation is the most ethical course of action is debatable.

By resigning, the individual may have simply surrendered the field to the villains. Upper management will express regret, the person will leave, and unless there is some publicity or whistle-blowing, few people outside of the inner circle will know the real reasons for the departure. A more pliable replacement will be found and the unethical or unwise policy or practice will be implemented with increased vigor. The employees who remain and who agree with the now-former co-worker may feel abandoned.

On the other hand, it is extremely easy to justify staying when a resignation is the best course. "I’ll change the organization from the inside" is the usual rationale, although in my experience there is little likelihood of such reformation. Indeed, the odds may be greater that they will change you instead of the other way around. Compromise on your principles today and it will be easier to do so tomorrow.

The test that I would suggest is simple: Will your remaining on the job send a signal that you approve of the policy or practice and will others who respect you interpret your continued presence as a sign that a serious ethical line has not been crossed? Just as there is guilt by association, there can also be innocence by association. If your presence and participation will be perceived by those who respect you as a stamp of approval for ethically deficient associates, then it is time for you to go.

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