How To Cope With Moral Injury In The Workplace

LaRae Quy
8 min readJan 11, 2024

As an undercover FBI agent, I had to learn how to lie to people. This is ironic because if an agent is less than honest in their investigations or their behavior toward others, it’s a legitimate reason to be fired from the FBI.

I’d been raised to be honest with people and treat them with integrity. In part, those values persuaded me that a career as an FBI agent was my path forward. I knew I would need to work past the guilt I felt when misrepresenting myself to the subject of my investigation because deception is required in undercover work.

I didn’t know how to process my conflicting emotions at the time because I didn’t have the language to express it. As a result, I was experiencing moral injury, which happens when we face situations that violate our core values. Moral injury happens when there is a disconnect between the ethical principles we live by and the reality of what is required of us or what we are experiencing.

Moral injury is common in high-stakes situations, like those encountered by healthcare workers and soldiers, but it’s become more prevalent in the workforce as well. Moral injury is more widespread than people realize: it also extends to social workers, educators, and lawyers.

Employees are tired of hearing, “Do whatever it takes to get the job done” from their supervisors. It doesn’t feel good to manipulate and lie to people, whether it’s customers, clients, students, patients, or colleagues.

Moral injury is a young and growing field of study for clinicians. Psychologists agree that it’s not as traumatic as PTSD or depression (although there are overlaps). The pandemic and the resulting upheaval in the workplace have turned the spotlight on how companies run their business.

As a result, employees are revolting against unethical behavior, mistreatment, injustice, betrayal by supervisors, and incompetence in leadership, especially if it’s at the expense of their values and integrity.

Moral injury in healthcare providers

During the Covid pandemic, healthcare providers experienced moral injury because of the constant, gut-wrenching decisions that had to be made. For example, during the height of COVID-19, a patient with suspected colon cancer would…

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LaRae Quy

Former counterintelligence FBI agent | Mental Toughness Center | Consultant | Speaker | Author: Secrets of A Strong Mind, & Mental Toughness for Women Leaders