What will you do?


Ethical behaviour is that which is normally accepted as good and right, as opposed to bad or wrong. Is it ethical, for example, to pay a bribe to obtain a business contract? Is it ethical to dispose of hazardous waste in an unsafe manner? Is it ethical to withhold information that would discourage a potential partner to join your business? Is it ethical to ask somebody to do a job, which you know will not be good for his or her career? Is it ethical to conduct personal business during company time? Is it ethical for workers not to deliver at their capacity but instead deliberately slow down production? Is it ethical to import inferior materials? And so on.
Regardless to what your initial response to these questions would be, customers expect that government officials, managers, workers and companies and organizations in general all act in accordance with high ethical and moral standards. But we all face questions like the ones posed above almost every day and we find ourselves in an ethical dilemma.
An ethical dilemma is a situation in which a person must decide whether or not to do something that, although benefiting oneself or the company or both, may be considered as unethical. Ethical dilemmas are common in the workplace and they are encountered between all levels of the organizational hierarchy, from the CEO to the guard and everybody in between. Common issues underlying the dilemma involve honesty in communication, contracts, gifts, entertainment, kickbacks, pricing practices and employee terminations. It is very difficult to predict exactly what ethical dilemmas you will someday face. It may, however, be helpful to anticipate having to deal with such possibilities as being asked by your boss not to identify an important weakness in a product you are selling, unless asked by the customer; having to decide whether to “pad” your expense account in order to cover the cost of personal items; or face the opportunity of giving a positive letter of recommendation to a poor performing employee, hoping that he or she will find another job elsewhere; or as a worker to claim medical complaints to cover up low performance; or taking company information to competitors for a “commission.”
Many organizations have made an effort to describe their norms and values to help guide behaviour in such circumstances but the ultimate test is the strength of each individual’s personal ethical framework. And each of us can too easily use rationalizations to help justify actual or potential misconduct. The best way to prevent these rationalizations from leading us astray is to recognize them for what they are: common rationalizations used to justify unethical behaviour include:

  • Pretending the behaviour is not really unethical or illegal;
  • Excusing the behaviour by saying it’s really in the company’s or your best interest;
  • Assuming the behaviour is okay because no one else would ever be expected to find out about it;
  • Expecting your supervisors to support and protect you if anything should go wrong;

What framework can we then use for ethical decision making? You see most ethical dilemmas typically involve risk, uncertainty and non routine problem situations. Just how you handle those situations that will inevitably appear in your career may well be the ultimate test of your personal ethical framework. Here follows a useful decision making checklist for resolving ethical dilemmas:

  1. Recognise and clarify the dilemma;
  2. Get all possible facts;
  3. List all possible options;
  4. Test each option by asking: “Is it legal? Is it right? Is it beneficial?”
  5. Make your decision;
  6. Double check your decision by asking: “How would I feel if my family would find out about this? How would I feel if my decision were printed in the local press? And for believers: Is it according to my faith? Will I please God by making this decision?”

Finally, take your action.
Remember that people in organizations and companies often use after-the-fact rationalizations as described above to “excuse” or “explain” unethical behaviour.  So let us go back to the case study described at the top of this article and answer the questions. What is the dilemma? What are the facts?
What are the options? What will you do? Test yourself. Tomorrow you may face a real life dilemma. 

Source: Managing Organizational Behaviour – Schermerhorn/Hunt/Osborn

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