Office politics and daily drama! Sometimes office stuff can drive you mad, and a lot of the time you can ignore it. But what about when an office situation arises and you have to make a decision: What do I do? Is this ethical or not? At times, you can just look the other way, but there are those times when you can’t. How do you know what to do? Here is a broad overview of what ethics and business ethics actually are. From here, you can fill in the details and get down to the dirty work of making hard decisions on the job.
Ethics is really applied ethics in the modern, pragmatic sense. It’s about what we’ll DO, not what a particular philosophical or theological theory would have us believe. In a purely religious society, such as in the Middle Ages in Europe, in which the Roman Catholic church decided all legal and moral issues based on theology and dogma, such practical question of applied ethics didn’t arise. But for us today, in the modern diverse workplace, things are not so clear cut. Business ethics is a part of applied or professional ethics and examines principles and moral problems that come up in business environments. Such as issues of theft or nepotism or sexual harassment.
There are several ways to look at making the right decision. First most of us have a sense of “normative ethics”–ways that we think that life and office life SHOULD work. Then we also have a sense of “descriptive ethics”–ways we have of explaining what the problem at work is and how we might be able to solve it. Obviously, in a multicultural society such as the USA today, we can’t expect everyone we work with to have EXACTLY the same system of beliefs and morals that we do. So much of the time we have to take a practical approach to issues and describe them, talk about them, and figure out how to solve them so that everyone is MORE OR LESS happy. This is the compromising approach to solving the problem. Of course, if you have a dictatorial sort of manager, he might decide to “lay down the law,” which makes it easy to solve problems — but also insures that most people at work are angry and unhappy.
Here are a some of examples of office workplace issues that have no clear solution. What would you do? The devil is in the details at times.
- You call in sick to your work not because it’s a beautiful day, but because your mother is dying and you want to be near her in the hospital. There is nothing you can do for her; it’s just that you want to be there for personal reasons. They need you at work and your boss would not let you off if she knew why you were “sick.” What is more important — dealing with your emotional and spiritual needs with your dying mother, or being a responsible and trustworthy employee? The devil is in the details.
- You have an affair with a coworker who is married; you think that no one at work will ever know, you believe that you’re in love, that his wife doesn’t understand him, etc., the old story. Do you have a responsibility not just in a bigger sense not to commit adultery, but also in the business sense to think about how such an affair might affect your workplace and coworkers? Or is the affair “your own business”? Again, the devil is in the details.
- You work in a restaurant as a waiter, and staff tips are shared equally, but you withhold a part of your tips from the common pot before the tips are divided — because your child is sick and needs expensive medication. Seems clear cut, but another person at work has a similar situation and puts in ALL her tip money to be honest. So you are the cheater. But your child is very sick. She is honest, but is she a bad mother? Who is the good person here? Devil in the details!
I hope this gave you a big picture of what ethics is and how ethical decision are made. You know that life is messy. Now get to work! More articles on ethical issues to come….