Ethical Dilemmas in Workplace

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Ethical Dilemmas in Workplace Many large organizations set out their purposes and values as a part of the job of managing stakeholder relationships. Such guidelines, or ethical codes, set out desirable conduct and best practices, provide framework to help employees resolve ethical dilemmas they may encounter in their work.

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Page 1: Ethical Dilemmas in Workplace

Ethical Dilemmas in Workplace

Many large organizations set out their purposes and values as a part of the job of managing stakeholder relationships. Such

guidelines, or ethical codes, set out desirable conduct and best practices, provide framework to help employees

resolve ethical dilemmas they may encounter in their work.

Page 2: Ethical Dilemmas in Workplace

The individual at work• We all have rights, duties, responsibilities, powers,

interests etc which accrue to us as people within a society.

• We do not lose these moral responsibilities as we enter the work place; instead we gain new ones that are contingent to holding the post within the organization.

• These new powers, responsibilities, duties, interests, concerns etc can be different from the ones we had before, they may even be in conflict with them

• Many of the moral dilemmas faced at the workplace are raised by issues that are not peculiar to work but are to do with interpersonal relationships with the people you are dealing with.

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Power, Authority & Trust

• We owe special degree of consideration who are closest to us. What is laudable as a private person becomes suspect once we are acting in trust of a third party (organization). It is even more suspect if what makes it possible for that person to act in that way is that the power and authority lent by the organization itself

• Though it is clear in principle, drawing a line between private and public is not easy.

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Danger Endurance


The Three Elements of Moral Courage

Courage: that quality of mindwhich enables one to encounterdanger & difficulties with firmnessor without fear or fainting of heart

Two types of couragePhysical- Principle relatedMoral- Principle driven

Moral courage is the courage to be moral – whatever adheres to five coremoral values of honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness and compassion

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Moral Courage in Practice

Why should moral courage matter so much these days? In part because we see so many examples of its lack– in corporate settings and legal proceedings, in politics sports, entertainment and in personal and social relationship.

But there is another deeper reason. The proving of one’s courage has long been a rite of passage from youth to adulthood. With physical courage less obviously in demand as we move onto the 21st century, the young could begin testing themselves against a courage that is moral rather than physical. If the need for physical courage is dwindling in everyday life, the opposite is happening for moral courage and soon be an indicator of MATURITY

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Cases:• A purchasing manager giving purchase orders to a

cousin (otherwise well qualified) who could be in financial straits?

• Show special consideration to friends and relatives who apply for jobs within the organization. Using your influence to get a relative / friend a job though he is adequately qualified.

• Using organization’s stationery or reprographic facilities for work of a charitable organization with which he / she is associated.

• A financial journalist use the knowledge gained from doing the job to tip off friends about risky investments

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Resolving an Ethical Dilemma

• Generally there are three major approaches that we use in handling ethical dilemmas. They are

• Focusing on the practical consequences (results oriented – Utilitarian) of what we do -- Teleological ethics

• Focusing on the fact that actions have intrinsic moral value; some actions are good (telling the truth, honoring promises) while some are bad ( dishonesty, coercion). No matter how much good comes out of lying, the action will never be good. Deontological (action oriented --Universalism)

• Philosophical / Moral / Virtue ethics by conducting through rational and secular outlook that is grounded in the notions of human happiness and well being

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Thinkers have debated the relative merit of these approaches for centuries, but for getting help with handling ethical dilemmas, think of them as complementary strategies for analyzing and resolving problems.It is however, assumed that the relevant laws and regulations are duly complied with.Three steps are involved:1. Analyze the consequences2. Analyze the actions3. Make a decisionWhile the theories may look conflicting at some stages, they actually complement one another in practice. Each acts as a check on the limitations of the other.

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Secrecy, Confidentiality and Loyalty• The problem of protection of confidential information and

the circumstances under which it is to be disclosed arises both in public and private capacities. The duty to tell the truth need to be qualified whether the person you are telling the truth is entitled to know it.

• Gossip has some value in organizational cohesion, but those who engage in this, walk a thin line between passing on what is justifiable in the public domain (the weather, last night’s episode in the disco, new policy for space allocation), or what one may know but not casually and promiscuously disclose (X’s marital problem, Y’s alcoholism, Z’s state of health)

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Contd:• It also matters how one came to be in possession of such

information. Many social positions and occupations require one to be entrusted with information which one may not deal with as if one has learned it in a private capacity.

• The confidentiality of medical report is near absolute; can be made available to other medical person who may need this for further treatment or to the court of law.

• Contractual, professional and moral obligations not to disclose specific information. Clearly, the organizations have the right to protect the information whose disclosure to the competitors may threaten its prosperity or survival (client list, industrial processes, management structures – things coming under Intellectual Property Right – IPR)

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The two scenarios # 1

• Someone using skills and knowledge gained in one employment to be used to get a new job (AIS officers switching jobs during mid career, BBC / National Geographic ? CNN trained technicians go to a competitor). The law is very clear and distinguishes between confidential information, which is the property of the organization and can not be passed on to the new employer and the employee’s skills and knowledge which form a part of the employee’s ability which he or she is entitled to use for the furtherance of their careers.

• Case of Rati Kanta Basu taking employment with STAR immediately after retirement from IAS (DG / Doordarshan)

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Scenario # 2 – Whistle Blowing

• The law is very clear in this; the duty to respect confidentiality does not extend to cover the breaches of law or other wrongful actions, nor does it release an employee from a legal obligation to disclose information to the appropriate authority.

• Though the law can protect the employee from immediate dismissal for whistle blowing, it can not protect him against loss of promotion, non renewal of contract or other forms of victimization. (A new law is in the offing for the protection of such whistle blowers.)

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Resolving Dilemmas• The ethical dilemmas at work place are supposed to be

product of the different roles that a manager is expected play simultaneously. However, should the ethical standards differ for the different role play? Most argue that the ethical standards should not be changed or ignored because the context has changed

• Managers sometimes, try to rationalize their unethical behavior. In doing so they make a reflection on their own character than that of the organization

• When the unemployment is high, people are more willing to bend the rules to keep their jobs. Social and organizational influences, therefore have significant impact on the ethical behavior.

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Life Event Stress and Consequent Dilemmas

Life events stress are concerned with situational encounters and the importance that the person attaches to that event. It refers to our feelings that something of importance to us is being jeopardized by the events in our daily lives.

The most common events producing stress are, ‘pressure to work hard’, ‘major events’, ‘vacation’. Major stressors are ‘deterioration of health of a family member’, ‘relocation at work’, ‘arguing with spouse’ etc. However, they are “Culture Specific”

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Dilemmas of the college years

• Clustering of life changes• Separation from parents• Reintegration: Developing new relationships• Love and sex life• Daily hassles• Financial uncertainty• Grade pressure• Fear of failure / success• Role difficulties (role overload, role conflict, role strain, role ambiguity)• Life script, Identity formation and Career choice• Anticipating post college challenges (selecting and starting a career,

adjusting to career changes, striving for financial security, preventing “affluenza” disease, living lightly on earth, creating stable and satisfying family, raising children, balancing work and family, dealing with blended families, adjusting to new work and community network, dealing with ethnic and racial diversity, coping with high tech demands, making time for exercises and relaxation etc )

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Ethics, Economics and Law The ethics of hardball : The cases of Toys “R” U and Child World; Home Depot : Good Ethics or Shrewd Business Business are economic organizations that

operate within the framework of law and are critical to business decision making. But the view that they are only relevant considerations and that ethics does not apply is NOT TRUE. Even hard fought games like football have a code of sportsmanship in addition to the rule book.

A good test of moral point of view is whether we would feel comfortable if our colleagues, friends and family were to know about a decision e have made.

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Advising Managers Why the normal value of private life tend to break down

or become ineffectual in business context, Nash offers five reasons:

1. The analytical framework the managers adopt2. The goals they set for themselves3. The organizational structure they belong to4. The language / methods they use to motivate others5. Their personal assumptions about the intrinsic worth of

other people If ethical issues and concerns do not figure in any of

the areas, then it is UNLIKELY that the organization will be fostering a climate in which the ethical behavior becomes the norm.

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Dozen issues to encourage managers to be ethical

1. Have you defined the problem accurately2. How would see this from the other side of the fence3. How did the situation occur in the first place4. To whom and to what you give your loyalty as a person5. What is your intention in making this decision6. Match your intention with the probable results7. Who is the decision going to injure8. Can you discuss the decision with the affected party before you make the

decision9. Confident of the long term validity of the decision10. Can you share the decision with your loved ones11. What is the symbolic potential of your decision of your action if

understood and / or misunderstood12. Under what circumstances would you allow exceptions to your stand

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Unethical behavior – some safeguards

• Central Vigilance Commission• Fear of punishment• Ostracizing the corrupt• Healthy activism against corruption• Fighting organized crime• Good laws and timely enforcement• Protecting whistle blowers• Active media • Personal integrity• Conscience of and equality before law• Judicial activism• Target unethical conduct at the top• Reject unethical offers

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Indian Wisdom and the Workplace

• The Indian wisdom absorbs the supreme truth, the essentials of infinitude and holiness of the souls, the essential oneness and solidarity of the universe as expressed in the Upanishads “Aham Brahamsmi”.

• Swami Vivekananda emphasized the ‘idea of education and all training programs should be character building. Education is not the amount of information overload that runs riot in the brain, but should aspire to inculcate the habit of analysis, action and moral response. Atmano Mokshaya Jagat Hitaaya Cha –Yagnayacharithartha karma – Parasparam Bhavayanthu

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Promoting Ethics at Workplace Managers in most organizations strive to encourage

ethical practices. The litmus test for the ethical practices are:

• The golden rule: act as the way you would expect others to act towards you

• The Utilitarian Principle: act in a way that yields greater good for the largest number of the people

• Situational but Natural: action taken under circumstances could be universal law or behavior

• Professional Ethics: peer reviewed by professional• The TV test: Can you share with a large audience• The Legal Test: Should be in conformity with the laws• The four way test: Is the decision truthful / fair / beneficial

to all concerned / generate goodwill and foster friendship

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Examples of Ethical Dilemmas -1

• Your supervisor enters your office and asks you for a check for Rs.2500.00 for expenses he tells you he incurred entertaining a client last night. He submits receipts from a restaurant and lounge. At lunch, your supervisor’s girlfriend stops by to pick him up for lunch and you overhear her telling the receptionist what a great time she had at dinner and dancing with your supervisor the night before.

• What do you do?

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Examples contd. - 2

• You have a student who is from a single parent family. The student must work to attend college. However, the job is interfering with the student’s performance and several assignments have not been turned in. You are determined that a “D” is all that the student can make when a counselor informs you that the student need a “C” to qualify for an academic scholarship.

• What do you do?

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• The Ethical Organization -- Alan Kitson and Robert Campbell

• Moral Courage – R.M. Kidder• Ethics – Thomas White• Business Ethics – facing up the issues

Edited by Chris Moon and Clive Bonny• Why is Indian Business Interested in Ethics – an article

by N.Vittal, CVC (The Economic Times, 19th Aug 1999)• An Ethical Organization: The need of the day – Article by

N.R. Narayanmaurthy, (The Financial Express, Aug 10, 2002)