Doing Justice to Ethics

By Dolecheck, Maynard M. | Supervisory Management, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Doing Justice to Ethics


Dolecheck, Maynard M., Supervisory Management


Doing Justice to Ethics

Sensational reports about business wrongdoing on television and in newspapers have prompted Steve, a foreman in a medium-sized manufacturing firm, to think about business ethics. While browsing in the local library, Steve located a report about business ethics containing research data from recent surveys. The report contained the following four findings based on surveys of employees: 1. Seven out of ten reported witnessing unethical behavior by others in their company. 2. Of the seven who had witnessed unethical behavior, nearly a third made no effort to report it. 3. Nearly four out of ten indicated the subject of ethical behavior is never discussed in the context of their work. 4. Four out of ten felt compelled to compromise their personal principles to conform to their organization's expectations.

The rather startling survey results caused Steve to begin analyzing ethics in his company and in particular his own department. Steve's company has a written code of ethics, developed ten years ago. All employees were given a copy of the code, and new employees receive a copy during their orientation session. Steve, however, wondered, "Am I doing everything possible to prevent unethical activity from occurring in my area and to encourage reporting it if it does?" After further reading, Steve isolated four areas in which he, and probably most supervisors, could make improvements:

Ethical areas 1. Emphasize and discuss ethics on a continual basis. Guidelines for solving ethical problems contained in an ethics code can be helpful, but including specific rules and regulations to meet every situation is impossible. Thus a code is primarily symbolic, indicating the importance a company places on ethical conduct. To maximize the symbolism of the company's ethics code, Steve decided to display it prominently on his desk and in a conspicuous location on the production floor. He then vowed to make a conscious effort to refer to the code and to discuss ethical implications in the context of his employees' work. In other words, ethics in the workplace has to be emphasized and analyzed on a continuing basis. Whenever questions and decisions concerning quality, production schedules, safety, and methods are discussed, ethical considerations must be included.

Moral lapses occur when employees receive little opportunity to discuss and define their ethical views and concerns. Therefore, employees must be encouraged to ask questions and freely discuss relevant issues, concerns, and doubts about ethical considerations in their work. 2. Devise realistic goals for employees. Steve practices participative management and management by objectives. More specifically, Steve meets annually with each of his employees to agree with them on individual goals; then he leaves them alone to accomplish those goals. Steve believes that agreed-on goals should require an individual to stretch to achieve them and that those who do achieve their goals should be rewarded. However, he remembered that four out of ten employees responding to a survey he read felt compelled to compromise their personal principles to conform to their organization's expectations. He also remembered that Mary, an assembler, had not met her production goal last year and complained that the goal was unrealistic. While Steve always solicits input from employees, he wondered if the goals were really mutually agreed upon and realistic; or did employees too often agree to goals that he suggested because of his position. If goals are too high, the temptation to cut corners to achieve them is increased. Steve also wondered whether, in his desire to leave his employees alone once goals were set, he was becoming isolated from his workers.

Steve vowed to study all employees' jobs thoroughly to have a better understanding of what goals would be compatible with their capabilities and to solicit and listen carefully to their beliefs, feelings, and thoughts about their own goals. …

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