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Question 101: Should an exasperated manager quit or stay to shield his subordinates?

My whole career has been in the marketing division of a major business machines manufacturer. For the past five years I have been in charge of the government and education sales section. During my tenure, our section has increased its market share and profitability, while the other sections have declined. My people, especially my branch office managers, deserve the credit. Our section’s employee turnover has been less than half that of the rest of the division, and this has made for solid customer relations. The section already had good team spirit when I took it over; I built on that by getting to know our people and taking a personal interest in each of them, so that all of them know we will do everything we can for them, and they, in turn, have given their best.

Earlier this year the vice-president for marketing resigned to become chief executive officer of our second largest competitor. I hoped to succeed him. Instead, the job went to Ms. Constance Crane, who had done well as head of the advertising section. Before her promotion was announced, the president took me to lunch and explained the situation. Since virtually all our top people are white men, the company can no longer resist pressures to promote or bring in some women and blacks. Still, the positions in question are too important to fill with unqualified people, and qualified women and blacks are few, and the demand for them is great. When this vice-presidency opened up, he decided it had to go to Crane. I agreed that she is qualified, but pointed out that my record not only is longer and richer in relevant experience but at least as good as hers in other respects. He frankly admitted that I “definitely would have been better qualified in other respects,” but said being a woman or a black has become an important qualification. He asked me to help Crane succeed for the good of the company. My bonus arrangement was sweetened, and I accepted the situation.

The day before yesterday, the president and Ms. Crane informed me that the board has decided on a restructuring. The plan is to merge the three sales sections and eliminate their separate heads, so that the managers of the consolidated branch offices will report directly to Crane. They are asking me to oversee the restructuring, then to take over as sales manager of what will be our largest branch office in Washington, D.C.

The news was not particularly good, but it was not really bad for me personally. The job in Washington would be neither a promotion nor a demotion. Relocating also would have both pluses and minuses for me and my family. Still, I am considering quitting. When I did not get the vice-presidency, I put out a few feelers, and I have an offer from a manufacturer of major appliances to manage its marketing division. This also would be a lateral move, since they would match the package I now have. But there would be some possibility of eventual promotion.

Two other things also incline me to take the offer and resign. First, while I understand the reason for the restructuring—operating economies that will improve the company’s profitability in the short run—I think it will harm profitability in the long run by losing the advantages in customer service for which the separate sections were created. Eventually that will hurt my own income. Second, the decision to restructure was made without ever consulting me. Coming on top of the decision to give Ms. Crane the vice-presidency, it makes me wonder about the company’s future as well as my own.

One thing inclines me to stay. The restructuring not only is going to break up my winning team but will mean trouble for many of my best people. Their pain is likely to be a lot worse if Ms. Crane oversees the restructuring than if I stay on to do it.


Since both of the questioner’s options—staying and changing jobs—are morally acceptable, the problem requires discernment. Emotional motives should be examined and discounted insofar as they are not integrated with the intelligible goods at stake. Because the options pertain to the questioner’s vocation, he should focus on the opportunities each offers to use his gifts in service. His relationship with his people is good in itself, and he should consider the effect his quitting would have on them, and on the company’s customers as well. If he decides to change jobs, he should take care when explaining his decision to avoid leading any of his people to make decisions against their own best interests.

The reply could be along the following lines:

When you put this problem to me, looking for help in sorting things out, you did not present it as a moral question. Many people would say it is not. And it is true that neither quitting nor staying would be morally wrong, and I will not try to tell you which to do. As I told you, however, my field is Christian ethics, and I take a broad view of what that includes, namely, thinking reasonably in the light of faith about any choice a Christian makes. So, as I promised, I mulled over the alternatives you face, and here are my reflections.

Since you are being asked to manage a restructuring of the whole marketing division that will greatly affect people under you and your own work, you surely should have been consulted before the decision was made. Perhaps you should make your case against the restructuring to the president and urge him to ask the board to reconsider. Still, you seem to think the decision is final, and I shall suppose it is.

Plainly, your prospects are not what they were only a short time ago. With your hope for a promotion frustrated, you no longer are looking forward to developing your talents in a more challenging position. What you have experienced understandably has diminished your enthusiasm for your work, and you can hardly foresee whether you will regain it. Moreover, you regard your treatment as a symptom of a serious defect in higher management, which, in turn, grounds your pessimistic view of the company’s prospects and, unless you resign, yours too.

But are you allowing your feelings to affect your judgment more than they should? Naturally, you were saddened by the treatment you received and angry at those responsible. You did not mention those feelings, but you would be extraordinarily meek if you did not have them. That you put out feelers when passed over for the vice-presidency suggests that disappointment motivated your initial thoughts of quitting. But your understandable feelings about that are only an emotional motive, not a reason, for quitting. Sort out your motives, and acknowledge your feelings, but discount any feelings that are not harmonious with the intelligible goods at stake.

In every aspect of life, Christians should try to discover God’s plan and will, and respond to his call (see LCL, 113–29). One’s talents and resources are God’s gifts, to be used in serving others, and thereby to fulfill oneself. So, in making career choices, Christians in business and the professions should not focus on their individual economic advantage or their status among peers, but on how best to use their gifts in service. Of course, one must earn enough to provide for one’s needs and those of one’s dependents, but that requirement apparently will be met no matter which alternative you choose.

Focusing on individual economic advantage and status encourages mobility, since people generally cannot take full advantage of opportunities for career advancement without repeatedly severing relationships and establishing new ones. The underlying individualistic focus and the prospect that business and professional relationships may not last long lead to considering them as mere means rather than as special forms of community, in some ways like friendships, valuable in themselves. By contrast, while a focus on serving others in response to God’s call does not rule out career changes, it does encourage one to regard relationships as valuable in themselves and so gives rise to commitments and bonds of loyalty that make for stability.

Therefore, in reflecting on your options, your main concern ought to be to discover what God is calling you to do. You will find the answer by considering others’ needs, on the one hand, and your capacities and gifts, on the other. You should regard the possibilities before you as different opportunities for service.

The warm way you speak about those you call “my people” suggests that your relationship with them is more than merely functional. You got to know and took a personal interest in each of them. That was not merely a management tactic using a clever technique of psychological manipulation; you were leading them in a genuinely cooperative effort to achieve common purposes, not least providing good service for the company’s customers. Prizing the community you have built up with your people, you are disposed to be loyal to them and inclined to stay through the restructuring in order to minimize its bad effects on them. In line with this reason for staying, you also should consider the impact your leaving would have on them even after the restructuring.

Closely allied to this consideration is another you did not mention: the impact your quitting would have on the company’s customers, both during the transition and afterwards. You explain that the restructuring itself will sacrifice important advantages for customer service. Would your quitting at this time aggravate the situation? If so, having built up solid relations with the customers your division served, you may fall short of your commitment to them if you quit.

In my judgment, a society more just than ours would require all employers to afford equal opportunities to candidates for jobs and promotions regardless of such factors as sex and race, and would not exert pressure on any employer to discriminate against white males. However, given the pressures your employer is under, the company’s interests may well have required giving Ms. Crane the vice-presidency you otherwise would have deserved. If so, though you are a victim of unjust discrimination, neither the company nor Ms. Crane is guilty (see q. 110, below). Patience in suffering injustice is an important Christian virtue (see CMP, 637–39), and it becomes a strict obligation when the alternative is seriously injuring people who are innocent by failing to fulfill some responsibility to them.

In sum, though the reasons you offer in favor of quitting are weighty, they do not seem to me to constitute a compelling case for quitting now. The prospect that the company will not do well in the future and that its decline will adversely affect your income does not seem to require you to leave at once, since even if you are right, its short run profitability, as you also point out, will be improved by the restructuring. If you owned stock in the company, would you sell it now? If not, it hardly seems you need quit now. You do have the offer of another job, but you do not seem to find it highly attractive. Of course, if taking that offer were the only way to meet your need for a secure income—for example, if you anticipated being discharged when you complete your work on the restructuring—you would have a cogent reason to resign now.

If you stay long enough at least to oversee the restructuring, you will be able to reassess the situation at the appropriate time. By then, your prospects with the company may seem brighter, perhaps even with regard to the possibility of promotion—after all, one or more of your superiors could decide to leave or be discharged, and everybody is mortal. But even if it then seems best to quit, you will be able to make a concerted effort to find a position where you could put your gifts to better use. Considering what to do in that light, however, the company’s prospects might seem better, and you may decide to stay on indefinitely.

Still, your reflection and discernment might well lead you to judge that you should quit now or plan to leave as soon as the restructuring is completed. If so, you no doubt will share with your people something of your view of the restructuring and the company’s prospects, and perhaps will tell them about your own plans. Overstating the case for a pessimistic view might encourage many who trust your judgment to move out. But that might not be in their own best interests and could seriously affect service to customers and so damage the company as a whole. So, even if you decide to quit, you should bear in mind in talking with your people the differences between yourself and them, and the element of uncertainty in your view of the company’s prospects, and should avoid signaling that the time has come for everyone to abandon ship. Nevertheless, loyalty requires that you not only avoid deceiving them about the restructuring and your own plans but candidly answer their questions about their prospects.