'My biggest mistake was staying too long at a company that didn’t align with my values'

Claire Warner, founder of workplace culture and wellbeing consultancy Lift, regrets sticking with an organisation when its senior team were behaving immorally – perhaps even illegally

My biggest mistake was staying for too long and not speaking up in an organisation that didn’t align with what I consider to be genuine, honest methods of functioning. I knew within the first six to nine months of working there that everything was not as it seemed. I wasn’t sure if there was any illegal activity, but I knew that at the top of the organisation things were going against my morals.I stuck it out there for longer than I should have and didn’t make my concerns heard, and I still feel bad about that.

Throughout my career, I’ve prioritised the right fit and purpose, as well as the work the business does and its core principles. In this company, the internal and external values did not match, and so while clients and consumers were treated wonderfully, staff were not. I could see people were physically and mentally exhausted, and had no awareness of their remaining resources or mental wellbeing. I had seen a high turnover rate and believed it was the result of unqualified workers, but it wasn’t. Employees were put under a lot of stress quickly before being overwhelmed by the organisation and burning out. I stayed and made an effort to shield my team from whatever the day might bring, but I came to realise that rather than helping I was exacerbating the problem. And so I left, despite having nowhere to go.

The organisation’s head had come from a high-pressure, high-paying business, and therefore the main focus was on the understanding that time is equivalent to money. One of the criticisms in the field in which I usually work – the public sector, where decisions are not made with shareholders’ money in mind is that this way of running a business is not professional. The goal for a company shouldn’t just be to fill the shareholders’ pockets. It’s about providing a service, creating opportunities, removing barriers and combating discrimination.

The experience taught me how important it is to be clear about organisational ideals and how my employer lives and breathes its values. As a result, I turned down a dream role because the company’s ideals did not align with mine, and it has informed my current work, which is to assist charities and non-profit organisations in improving their workplace environments.