update: what to do when you have moral qualms about your employer’s line of business

Remember the letter-writer last year who was struggling with moral qualms about her job? She was working for a tobacco wholesaler, and her dad was fighting lung cancer. Here’s her update.

First off, thank you for your advice. It came right when I needed it. I had tried so hard to stick it out until I found a new job, but your suggestion that I might be better off leaving helped me give myself permission to get out before I gave my professional integrity a vacation. For what it’s worth, I worked harder in the months following my dad’s diagnosis because I didn’t want to hurt my reputation, and I would have hated to betray the sympathy and flexibility being shown to me. I guess “resentment” wasn’t the right word to use in my initial letter.

Anyway, after I decided to leave, I realized a lot of issues that I had been attributing to my unhappiness in the industry were actually just issues. Your blog has really helped me to recognize good management, and there was a serious dearth of it there. My manager actually was pretty great at it, especially at setting clear goals and giving positive feedback and constructive criticism. The owner, though: textbook hands-off, non-manager. Basically, I realized that even without my father’s illness, I probably would have started job searching by the end of the year anyway.

Unfortunately, your response came about two weeks after we found out my dad’s treatment was not having the desired effect and about a week before he passed away. I think I put my resignation in the day after your response was published. True to their word, my bosses were very generous with PTO during this time (the company does not employ enough workers for FMLA to apply, by the way). I worked out my four weeks and came back a couple of times to help train my replacements then traveled for a bit before jumping back into the job search.

I became much more conscientious about the kind of work I sought and passed over some great opportunities that weren’t the right fit. I found a staffing agency that placed me in several great temp jobs. At the beginning of the summer, I started a temp position where the manager was excited to teach me a new field that I’d been eager to learn, even knowing that I was unlikely to be kept on past the initial contract. Unfortunately, less than a month into my stint there, he went out sick with what was soon determined to be the same illness that took my father and passed away a month later.

That was… a really rough time. They asked me to stay on and keep the department afloat until they could hire a new manager (he was the whole department until I joined). It was pretty overwhelming at times, but everything went better than expected, and people at multiple levels of the company have been singing my praises. I stayed non-commital about taking a permanent position until I had a chance to work with the new guy and determine if he was even someone I’d want for a manager. Good news: we have a great rapport and very compatible working styles, he’s already joined the chorus of praise-singers, and he offered me the permanent position last week. Bonus: I was able to use your advice to negotiate a higher rate, something I’d never had enough leverage to attempt.

It’s been a long, tumultuous year, but I’m really excited to take this next step. I think I’ve finally found a place I can happily work long-term… and just in time to get holiday pay!

Thank you again for your advice, and not just to my letter. AAM has really informed my professional life since I started reading, and I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am now without it.

I’m so sorry about your dad!  I know how rough that is.

I’m glad you’re in a better job now. Keep us posted!

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    I’m so sorry about your dad. I also very much admire your ability to apply the results of your introspection to guide your career to a path that feels like a better fit and more rewarding.

  2. fposte*

    I wondered how things had gone for you, OP. My condolences on your loss, and my congratulations to you for working out some difficult issues and coming out with a good result.

  3. Santa Baby*

    I’m so sorry about your father, OP. It’s so encouraging to hear that things are on the upswing for you though.

    I’m in a similar situation – my father was a prescription drug addict and died from an overdose. I’m currently working for a pharmacy benefit manager and I really had a difficult (and still do, honestly) time knowing that part of my job is “pushing pills.” :(

    1. Lou*

      There is a difference between “pushing pills” and giving people the medications they need to get well (ex. antibiotics), function at a pain-free or less-pain productive level (ex. medication for arthritis), and manage chronic conditions (ex. diabetes, high blood pressure). You’re helping people get the treatment they need. Unfortunately, some become addicted to their medication but so many others benefit from them. Please don’t feel bad.

    2. catsAreCool*

      I just got over the flu, and the prescription medication that the doctor prescribed that I got at the pharmacy was very helpful. Prevented secondary infection, relieved congestion.

      There are a lot of people who get a lot of benefit from those medications.

      I’m sorry about your father.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Like our OP, it maybe time to move on for you, too.

      I can see where all the logic in the world gets negated when you hold a pill in your hand and say “yeah, this killed my dad”. That constant daily reminder does not serve you well.

      You may need to go to a new arena in order to get to a healing place about all you saw with your dad and his problems. (And truly speaking, we never stop grieving. But like a paper cut that you keep hitting all day long, if something is keeping your grief open and raw you need to do something to stop that constant hitting.)

      Please be gentle with yourself as you sort this.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, sorry for your loss.

    It seems like you’ve come through a difficult time in the best way possible and I’m glad to hear that.

  5. SJP*

    I think I can say for everyone that OP, I am SO sorry for the losses you experience and I am glad you’re in a better/happier place not only in work but also your life in general!
    I wish you all good vibes for the future

  6. Kyrielle*

    I am so sorry for your loss. I’m glad the job situation is working out – that sounds like you navigated it really well, and I’m glad the results were also good.

  7. Crow*

    OP, you did the right thing for everyone involved (especially yourself!) and I’m so glad it turned out so well. I admire the way you handled everything. I’m sorry for your loss, but I bet your Dad is beaming with pride at the way you handled such a tough situation.

  8. louise*

    This made my eyes leak, but mostly over happiness for you that such a rough past year is beginning to turn around. I wish you all the best, OP.

  9. KimmieSue*

    OP – While I’m terribly sorry for your losses, I’m so happy that you’ve settled in a good place. Thank you for sharing this update!

  10. Anna*

    OP, I’m sorry you had to go through such a rough time. Losing your father must be so difficult and while I can’t say I know what you’re going through, I know it is hard. I’m so happy to hear you’ve come out the other side of this last year in a better place and a better job.

  11. KAZ2Y5*

    OP, I’m so sorry for your loss. One month after my family moved to a new town my husband passed away suddenly. I know the turmoil that brings and am so happy to hear that your job situation has turned out so well.

  12. OP*

    Thank you, everyone, for your condolences. I forgot to thank the commenters from the original post for their input too. Not So New Reader’s advice was particularly helpful. I also wanted to extend my sympathies to the folks who had also lost friends and family and to send my best wishes to the ones whose loved ones were in the midst of battle. It’s been over a year, but I hope that they have improved or at least are still soldiering on.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      You have grace under fire, OP. You navigated that very well. May your travels from here be much lighter and more rewarding.

  13. Jazzy Red*

    I’m very sorry for the loss of your father. Getting out of the tobacco industry was the right thing for you to do, and it’s great to hear that you’re in a much better workplace.

  14. New Here*

    I am so sorry for your loss. And I have sympathy to you regarding the industry you left. I used to work for Gambling industry – and in a brilliant work environment at the same time. After first excitement about getting a job was over, I started thinking about more serious stuff like “Am I doing something to make this world a better place?”. After all, this is the main question to ask self! I left that company and wasn’t sorry about it ever since.

  15. junipergreen*

    Congrats on your new role, OP, it’s great to hear you’re in a solid new workplace. I’m sorry to hear about your father, and wish you and your family well.

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