Moral Courage in the Workplace

Moral courage at work often feels like walking on a tightrope.
i John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images

At some point in life, most people will face ethical challenges in the workplace that will require moral courage to address and resolve. The situation may involve a co-worker who steals from the boss, or a time when a close peer asks you to keep silent about harassment or bribery you witnessed. At times like this, making the right decision to report unethical behavior can cause inner conflict and external conflict among colleagues. Managers that create a foundation for moral courage can help facilitate the correct behaviors in the workplace.

Conceptual Framework

    Moral courage is the ability to make ethical decisions and sound moral judgments as a result of one's experience, knowledge and personal development. Ethical decisions are typically made on the basis of personal conscious while also weighing the potential consequences on the individual and his colleagues. In other words, someone with high moral standards will not just consider his own best interests, but also the interests of others. This enables them to differentiate between what is right and wrong in the workplace.

Modeling Correct Behavior

    Employees with moral courage often model correct behaviors. They identify strongly with the mission, values and goals of the organization. While there are many employees and managers who may be willing to participate in rule-bending, individuals with high ethical standards and moral courage are not willing to do so. They feel obligated to report those who engage in activities harmful to the company including rule-bending, cheating, lying and stealing. This sends a message to others that these behaviors will not be tolerated.


    Unfortunately, having moral courage can have unintended consequences for the person behaving ethically. Many co-workers do not agree with turning in colleagues. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If the workplace culture supports ethical behavior, then moral courage may be supported and applauded. However, if there are cliques in the workplace and disunity, then someone who advocates a high standard of moral ethics may be ostracized.

Supporting Moral Courage

    Some work environments strongly support moral courage. Good examples are healing environments where the goals of the organization include serving customers and working as teams to provide better quality service and best client outcomes. If there is a strong commitment and mission toward continuous improvement, and strong support among managers toward ethical values and norms, then the odds are individuals in the organization who advocate moral courage and speak out when things go awry will be supported in their mission to improve the organization.

the nest