Do You Face Ethical Dilemmas? Everyone Does!

post it notes No wonder we’re tired: Every day we make about 35,000 decisions.  Some are easy, some are tough, and many of those decisions deal with ethical dilemmas.

First, what is an ethical dilemma?  According to Wikipedia, simply put, it is a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. Simply put, an ethical dilemma is a dilemma whose solution is not obvious or it has multiple solutions that can be considered right or ethical.

For many of us, making an ethical decision comes down to listening to what your ‘gut’ – or internal compass -- tells you is the right thing to do.  But it’s more than that.  It’s making a legal decision.  It’s making a decision that fits with your beliefs (religious or otherwise).  It’s making a decision that fits in with your society, your family, your school, your employer.  

Look at these ethical decisions and offenses:

Minor:  Eating a donut from the bakery while at the grocery store and not paying for it. 

More serious: Spreading a negative rumor about someone at work – who happens to be up for a promotion for a job you want.

Very serious: Changing numbers on a report that is crucial to the beneficial bottom line of your company.

Take a look at this scenario:  Patrick is in charge of purchasing a customized software package for his work group. He investigates several outside vendors and what they have to offer. He solicits bids from a few of the best qualified vendors. The lowest competent bid comes from a firm in which Patrick’s wife happens to be a major investor. Based on the lowest bid, Patrick selects this vendor to supply the needed software. Does Patrick’s decision present a conflict of interest?

What do you think?  Was there a conflict of interest?  If you were Patrick, would you have known what to do? Would you have recognized you were in an ethical dilemma?  Would you have known where to go for advice?

March is National Ethics Awareness Month – and while we should all be aware of ethics in regards to decision making every single day, many people are not.  Anyone who has questions about unethical conduct should immediately talk to someone: their immediate supervisor or another supervisor, Human Resources, or perhaps the legal department.

Employers should make ethics training a part of onboarding every new employee, and refreshing that training on a regular basis. Employers should also cover in their employee handbooks ethical expectations and procedures for reporting perceived ethics violations.  No matter the industry, all employees should learn about  making ethical decisions on the job, including how to use organizational values as a personal guideline, how to dissect tough ethical dilemmas, and how ethical decision making benefits you.

Related:  Ethics in the Workplace    Ethical Decision Making    Law Enforcement Ethics   Use of Force: Ethical Considerations