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How to Spot and Deal with Virtue Signaling on the Job

Virtue signaling is the act of expressing oneself in a way to demonstrate one’s moral principles. For example, a person is doing this if they publicly declare their support for a cause on social media only to show others how compassionate they are. While there are plenty of examples of virtue signaling on social media and in personal situations, it also happens on the job.

Virtue signaling is common but it is more harmful than most people realize. Thus, it’s critical to understand it. Read on to learn more about it and how to avoid it, especially in the workplace

Is Virtue Signaling Good or Bad?

Are good deeds still good deeds when they become more about self-promotion than about doing good?

Virtue signaling creates a problematic situation. On the one hand, isn’t it good to spread ideals and values? Of course, it is! However, it becomes “bad” when a person is hypocritical and broadcasts their support for a cause while doing nothing to help the cause. This is particularly true for those in powerful positions, such as politicians, celebrities and companies.

The practice becomes especially “bad” when people use it as a tool to mislead others about their character, intentions and actions.  Furthermore, it is a form of manipulation that people use to gain attention and other benefits. It also fosters a hostile and unproductive environment. This happens as it distorts the motivations behind actions and creates a world in which the absolute minimum becomes the standard.

A genuinely kind and compassionate individual does not need to advertise themselves. Doing a nice deed for someone else should be motivated by empathy and compassion. When someone does it to satisfy a selfish craving, however, this compassion becomes superficial. At work, communication becomes disingenuous with coworkers who use virtue signaling as a mask.

What This Means for a Professional Setting

Virtue signaling is particularly bad in the workplace as it creates an environment of mistrust, lies and resentment. If certain employees who  virtue signal receive better treatment or promotions, ill feelings can develop amongst the team. As a result, colleagues try to “one-up” each other and create a toxic work environment. This is the reason managers, especially, need to recognize virtue signaling. 

The workplace should be a space in which people can share positive thoughts and actions. These should come from a place of honesty and productivity to be truly valuable. After all, it is productive relationships in the workplace that create a successful organization.

How to Spot Virtue Signaling

It is easy to confuse virtue signaling with genuine exchanges during a conversation. After all, it is harsh and impulsive to assume that any person who speaks about a cause or moral principle is doing so for their image. Most people, however, have an intuition for virtue signaling. For example, a celebrity you follow on social media might post about a cause that is getting significant media attention. Yet, if this celebrity has done nothing that actually helps the cause, you would question their true intentions.

While these behaviors in celebrities may be easy to identify, it can be much more challenging to recognize them in the people around you. You certainly do not want to be caught in a situation where you misread a person’s intentions. Here are a few things that you can look out for in virtue signaling:

  1. The person uses remarks or behaviors to express their high moral ideals.
  1. They are acting dishonestly and do not conform to their true principles.
  1. Their activities have little to no impact on the causes they claim they’re helping.
  1. They use their remarks or actions to justify their moral superiority over others.

How to Deal with Virtue Signaling on the Job

As with any unfavorable interaction at work, it is always important to remain professional and respectful. Read the room and determine if it is truly necessary and beneficial to confront the situation. Also, ask yourself, “Is this the right place and time?” If you believe it is, here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching the situation.

  1.  Consider whether a response would have any significant impact.
  2. Point out the behavior and explain how it can be harmful to the workspace. 
  3. Ensure that you aren’t using the concept of virtue signaling as a trivial way to put down or dismiss those with whom you work.
  4. Keep in mind that just because someone is acting in a way that reveals their moral convictions, it doesn’t mean they’re virtue signaling.

Key Takeaways

Virtue signaling is a term filled with negative connotations. However, it is important, especially at work, to recognize that virtue is wholly different from virtue signaling. This study, for example, shows how virtuous leaders inspire their teams with action and they increase employee job satisfaction. Ultimately, virtue signaling reduces true virtue. Therefore, any signs of it should be respectfully acknowledged and stamped out on the job.

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The Coach
Coaching For Better Learning helps people and institutions build systems that lead to lasting improvement, growth, and success.

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