Many employees spend their careers wrestling with their conscience about how they earn their living, as managers force values on them that conflict with their own personal outlook on life.
Research from a Minnesota leadership development firm, CO2 Partners, has found one in three workers reporting that their employer's core values are not always consistent with their own.
This ethical conflict is likely to be a key factor behind the disengagement found in so many places of work, said CO2 Partners president Gary Cohen.
"Management often seems to expect employees to ignore their personal values in favour of the ones posted on the wall," he explained.
Of the 615 workers polled, 44 per cent felt their core values were consistent with those of their employer.
Just under a third they were not always consistent while more than a tenth were uncertain about what their core values were but never felt uncomfortable working for their employer.
A similar percentage felt their core values did not have much to do with their work.
"It is disconcerting that leaders are not spending more time aligning their employee's values with those of their organisation," said Cohen.
"When employee values clash with the organisation's operating values, the outcome is 'work avoidance' – passive, unproductive behaviours and a silent sabotage of projects and ideas," he added.
Such a misalignment could have a significant impact on workforce productivity and employee engagement, he stressed.
"If organisations are going to grow talent and commitment there has to be mutuality when it comes to communication and operating principles. Otherwise, the much-sought-after employee engagement will continue to prove elusive," Cohen advised.
The findings reflected a pervasive, if sometimes unexpressed, ethical dissonance in the workplace, he added.
"An employee listens to management's ethical pronouncements, but may see little follow through.
"For instance, top management commonly expresses a commitment to standards of high performance…but then fails to act when a certain manager does not meet those standards.
"In such a case 'loyalty' seems to trump the professed value, and employees perceive management operating according to its own separate set of rules," he concluded.