January 21, 2019 by

When thinking about career opportunities, one situation comes up to me frequently—that is, do I quit a job I just accepted if my dream job comes along? Here is a common scenario:

An employee worked for a company for 10 years. Then, it restructured and the employee lost his/her job. That employee networked and found a good job. The firm on-boarded said employee, who started working there for three weeks. This employee likes the work and has begun to implement a big project that will take months to complete. The employee’s skills are needed to successfully complete the project, which is essential to their strategic plan. If the company gets this right they will be able to grow their business over the next three years.

Then, a potential boss at the new employee’s dream job calls with an opportunity at a smaller firm that is doing cutting-edge work. The employee likes the ability to use their skills to innovate with a hard-working, fun-loving team, and then turn ideas over to a group of creatives that will bring the best of them to the market. The company is the kind of firm that is written up in Fast Company. It will make products that allow people in developing cultures to live better lives. The pay is quite a bit less, but the employee can make it work.

Here is the ethical question. Should this employee stay at the job he/she just started? Or is it OK to quit for this dream job? The decision needs to be made quickly.

My answer to this person is: you and your dreams count. However; this person’s strong ethical lens allows this person to not only recognize self-interest, but also see past it. 

Many people want to help make the world a better place and have fun to boot. They are willing to take less money for this. But these values conflict with promise-keeping and the harm created at a good job if an employee leaves after only a few weeks. Hiring and on-boarding a salaried employee is costly, and leaving a team short-handed-—putting their strategic project behind—is perhaps to the long-term detriment of the firm.

Ethically speaking, how long does a promise to hold a job last? One day? Three weeks? Should it be commensurate with the amount of time and energy put forth by the firm?

Anyone in the good job versus dream job situation has to come to grips with the values in conflict, keep the context in mind, and recognize that what they do affects themselves as well as others. Anyone with strong ethical decision-making skills recognizes that the solution might not be an either-or. Wisdom suggests that courageous conversations with all parties will likely result in a solution that honors one’s principles and mitigates harm all the way around.


This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.