What’s funny about the term “virtue-signaling” is that people even virtue-signal about the base idea. It’s been defined as a “conspicuous expression of moral values” (holla!) and I’ve got some dude on LinkedIn who keeps referring to it as a “dog whistle,” which admittedly I only kind of understand. I think the general concept is that it’s supposed to be applied only to political discourse, but I find that to be incorrect. I think people virtue-signal left, right, and center at work.
Examples of virtue-signaling at work
I’ve got a few for you:
- “I am so slammed and busy:” While not a moral value, you are essentially saying “I am more important and relevant than you are.”
- “I am focused on XYZ Thing:” This basically means “The idea or thing you just brought me is not valuable to me.”
- “Per my last email…” Hehe.
- “As you know, our mission is…” This is an attempt to get someone to do something by alluding to a vague concept such as the “mission,” or “vision,” or “purpose” of the organization. Quick hint: the mission of most for-profit companies is to provide growth for stakeholders. There is no other mission, despite what people will virtue-signal in a decision-making time.
- “This is the process.” Process has a near-religious, sacrosanct quality at organizations. People value-signal about it all the time, even if the process has long since outgrown its usefulness and is hurting you with clients and customers.
- “I’ve been doing this X-years. I trust my gut.” This is the ultimate hierarchy play, and is the main reason why big data stuff will never get to scale as much as people want to believe it will.
- “I worked 80 hours last week. I barely slept.” This is almost always a lie, but it doesn’t stop people from saying it. Remember: being a workaholic is the closest thing most dudes have to actual fun.
That’s a partial list. I am sure you could come up with some others.
Why do people virtue-signal at work?
Well, we spend a lot of time there, and it’s a complex emotional maze of shit and all that … so that’s why. Work is mostly about relevance and control. It has very little to do with productivity and innovation; it does at some places, but at most companies — especially the ones using 1991 revenue models — those are just things we say. They are not things we do. The things we do are, well, control others and flex on our own relevance. Welcome to Cubicle Land.
Could we eliminate virtue-signaling at work?
Absolutely not. Never. People are people and people need to feel like they matter. If they’re not getting that from the organization or their direct boss, they will virtue-signal about how important, busy, relevant, or knowledgeable they are. They have to do it. There is no way to change this aside from possibly self-awareness, and that’s not really at scale in companies (or in people).
What’s your take?
Have ya seen it? What would be your take, and/or additional examples?