At work, you’re bound to face an ethical dilemma at some point. Do you report one of your colleagues if they’ve done something wrong? Do you tell your boss the truth when you’ve overslept for the second time in a week? Read on to find out how to deal with tricky situations such as these.
Understanding ethical dilemmas
You may be faced with an ethical dilemma when something at work goes against your personal ethics, morals and values. This could be something that one of your colleagues or managers is doing, or something that you are doing yourself. Ethical dilemmas may force you to choose between being honest and dishonest, or between what you know is right and what you know is wrong.
How to deal with ethical dilemmas
Here are some common examples of ethical dilemmas, and how you could potentially deal with them:
Reporting a colleague for inappropriate behavior
Dilemma: You see one of your close colleagues speaking inappropriately to another member of staff. This has been going on for a while, and you’re sure that what you are seeing is sexual harassment. You know your colleague’s actions are wrong, but you don’t want to ruin the friendship you’ve developed with them over the past few years. Should you report them to human resources?
Solution: If you have a friendship with your colleague, then you should ideally raise the issue directly with them and tell them your concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, then find out whether your human resources department allows you to make anonymous complaints. This has the dual benefit of protecting your identity while also bringing the issue to the attention of management. You’re hopefully bringing an end to the emotional suffering that’s being endured by the person being harassed.
Lying to your manager
Dilemma: You have been procrastinating on a project and suddenly deadline day is upon you. Your manager asks you for the completed project, but you have nothing to show him. Will you admit that you just didn’t get around to it, or will you place the blame on someone else?
Solution: It’s best to be honest about why you didn’t complete your project. This applies to many situations where you have the choice between being honest and lying. More often than not, lies in the workplace have a way of revealing themselves over time. Take responsibility and face up to your mistake. If your boss is a reasonable person, then they may well offer the advice and support you need to complete the project. You should, however, learn from your mistake and prepare in advance next time – your boss won’t be as sympathetic if you miss another important deadline.
Disagreeing with a company decision
Dilemma: A new manager has been appointed to lead your department, and you find out that he is the boss’s nephew. You also discover that he doesn’t have the appropriate qualifications, and that he may not have been interviewed before he was hired. Do you question the decision or simply accept it?
Solution: Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this. Ultimately, the company’s management has the final say in making hiring decisions. Also, because the issue involves the person who pays your salary, you may fear losing your job if you say something about it. You could decide to submit an anonymous complaint with the hope of an investigation taking place. Alternatively, you may want to ask yourself: “Is a company that goes against my ethical and moral codes really one that I want to work for?” If you feel strongly about this, then you could consider looking for another job opportunity.
A final note…
When addressing something as complicated as an ethical dilemma, remember that you should consider things very carefully before taking any drastic action. Make sure that you’re aware of all sides of the story, and confide in people close to you for their advice and opinions.
Become an expert in office ethics with the Foundations of Ethics in the Workplace online course from Oxbridge Academy.
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