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Introduction of ethics
Ethics can be defined as "a domain unto itself, a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures" (Elder and Paul, 2003). In today's society, it is becoming natural to question the relevance of ethics. Contestants on reality television shows are rewarded with sums as large as $1,000,000 for activities such as lying, cheating, backstabbing and otherwise playing the game. In the midst of downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, is it fair to hold corporate America to a high set of standards as they attempt to merely stay alive?
Recent ethical catastrophes such as Enron and WorldCom make it clear that, now more than ever, companies must rely on a solid foundation of ethics if they are to succeed and keep quality employees.
Employees today are being ethically challenged every day. (Thomson Gale, 2005) declares " the pressures of business life clearly test the personal morality of all individuals, at all levels of the organization. One in five of those surveyed said they at least sometimes felt under duress from colleagues or managers to compromise the organization's standards of ethical business conduct in order to achieve business goals."
As an employee, we should not, however, automatically assume a questionable request is unethical. As noted by Amanda Gengler, "Almost 10% of the employees who felt they were asked to do something unethical eventually determined that their boss' request was appropriate."(Gengler, 2006). Be sure you have all the facts before making a decision.
The concepts of ethical principles in the workplace are generally not complex. However, some ethical questions require "reasoned judgment" to determine a definitive answer. This fact is illustrated by the following quote - "Some ethical questions have definitive answers; others require reasoned judgment. When reasoning through an ethical question, we need to determine whether it is simple or complex." (Elder and Paul, 2003).
Whether a business is considering how to treat its employees, create its products, serve its customers or participate in the community, the ethical answers all revolve around doing the "right thing" rather than what may be the most profitable or expedient in the short term. On a simple level, this means treating employees fairly, producing a quality, safe product, and striving to continuously improve customer service. Most businesses successfully apply these concepts when the ethical answer is clear-cut. We do not steal from our employees.
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As evidence to this fact, it has been shown that "There is no nation, no religion, and no ethnic group that openly argues for the right to cheat, deceive, exploit, abuse, harm, or steal from others. Neither is there anyone who publicly attempts to justify murder, racism, assault, rape, fraud, deceit, or intimidation. The problem, then, is not that we lack ethical principles. The problem is that we are naturally adept at hiding our own violations of them." (Elder and Paul, 2003).
Case Study Number 1
The case study below is one example of how employees are challenged in the workplace. Nicole was a teenager working at a local McDonalds®. While on duty, she witnessed a cashier taking money out of the register of another cashier. At closing time, the second cashier's register was short. To offset the shortage, she took money out of the first cashier's register. The second cashier was unaware that Nicole saw her take the money. When she found out, she threatened Nicole which forced Nicole to make a very difficult decision. On one hand, she could have easily turned a blind eye to the entire situation. This would have been the easiest decision by far. However, ethically, she knew this was not the correct decision. Even though she risked physical harm, in the end, she decided turned in the employee. In this case, Nicole used sound ethical judgment instead of the easy way out. Often times, this is not an easy decision.
This type of behavior can be further illustrated by this statement by Elder and Paul. "Ethical reasoning entails doing what is right even in the face of powerful selfish desires. To live an ethical life, then, is to develop command over our native egocentric tendencies." (Elder and Paul, 2003).
Case Study Number 2
The following case study profiles Tonya, who was an employee of the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Department at the time of this incident. The example details how an employer used poor ethical decision making. One night while working the evening shift, she received a call from a local hospital. The caller stated that a married Sheriff's Deputy, whom Tonya had a very close working relationship with, had assaulted his girlfriend. The caller indicated that the woman needed to file a domestic battery report. Tonya found herself in a difficult situation and did not want to take the report. If she did, her fellow officer would potentially find himself in serious trouble and possibly lose his job. Based on past experiences, she also knew that the woman he assaulted would take him back in a few weeks.
Tonya called the offending deputy to discuss the situation. The deputy advised her to take the report and he would face the consequences. Before she did, she decided to contact her superior officer and explain the situation to him. He advised her to take the report but not to file it until the Chief and Sheriff could discuss the matter. Holding onto her strong ethical beliefs, Tonya took the report and filed it at the end of her shift as she was obligated to do based upon the vow she took. Unfortunately, her Major did not agree, and she was reprimanded. Immediately, she realized her employer's ethical standards and hers did not match and she resigned from her position within two weeks.
In this particular case, her employer did not handle the situation in an ethical manner. Her Supervisor should have intervened in the situation and taken the report himself. This would have removed Tonya from being directly involved and having to make the difficult choice she was forced to make.
Unfortunately, there is no single, definitive source for ethical standards in the workplace. A company's ethical guidelines will vary with the values and culture of each individual organization, and emphasize those values and behaviors that are most critical to the organization.
In summary, ethical principles can be a very simple concept or an extremely complicated one. We, as people and employees, have the power to affect the lives of others by our decisions and actions. We have a choice, and if we so choose, "We can learn to respect the rights of others and not simply focus on fulfilling our desires" (Elder and Paul, 2003).