Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek
Daniel Goleman's books "Emotional Intelligence" and "Social Intelligence" have made a huge impact on our culture. We could all develop our ethical intelligence, too. That means not only understanding the difference between right and wrong, but also choosing to act ethically, especially when there is great pressure to do otherwise. It's not enough to know what's right; the ethically intelligent person does what's right, and is committed to doing so time and again.
How ethically intelligent are you at work? Take the following quiz to find out.
1. One of the people you have just hired seems to be attracted to you, and you are attracted to this person. Both of you are single. Would you:
A) Ask the person out on a date.
B) Have only a professional relationship with the person.
C) Ask the person if your intuition is correct, and if it is, discreetly pursue a romantic relationship.
2. A co-worker in the next cubicle has a habit of spending a lot of time making loud and distracting personal phone calls about things that are obviously trivial. Would you:
A) Ask the person to keep the volume at a reasonable level.
B) Focus on your own work.
C) Talk with the person about why it's in everyone's interest to limit personal phone calls.
3. In a public restaurant, you overhear two colleagues discussing confidential information about a client. They mention the client by name. Would you:
A) Ignore it.
B) Talk with your colleagues about your concerns about confidentiality and leave it at that.
C) Report them to your supervisor.
4. You recently fired someone who often came to work late, left early, and spent a lot of work time surfing the Internet for fun. Recently you've learned that another member of your staff is doing the same thing. However, this person is the daughter of a close personal friend (who doesn't work at the company). You have given this employee several warnings about her behavior, but the problems continue. Would you:
A) Fire the employee.
B) Give her another warning and hope that this will take care of the problem.
C) Ask your friend to talk with his daughter.
5. You took the family out to dinner and used your corporate credit card because you forgot your personal one. When it comes time to doing your expenses, would you:
A) Put in the name of a client whose account you know has plenty of cash in it.
B) Mark it as a personal expense and reimburse your employer.
C) Tell your supervisor that it was a family dinner and ask him to approve the expense on the grounds that, with all of the late nights you've been putting in, you've missed a lot of meals with your spouse and children.
Evaluating the choices in each scenario is predicated on the five fundamental principles of ethics:
As tempting as they may be, office romances are not a good idea . For one thing, how can you be sure that your new hire is actually attracted to you and not just being friendly? Choice A may be based on a misinterpretation of the signals you're getting (or think you're getting), so asking the employee out on a date could reasonably be interpreted as sexual harassment. Even if there is a mutual attraction, however, choice C is still not the best response to the situation. After all, most relationships don't work out, and when this one fizzles, you'll both face an extremely uncomfortable working environment, and one or both of you may have to go. B is the best way to honor your responsibilities to your employee, your clients, your organization, and yourself.
Making an excessive number of personal phone calls while on the job isn't rude; it's unethical. We're paid to do a job, and wasting time is unfair to all; the fact that this may be a common practice doesn't make it right.
When a colleague engages in such conduct, it's understandable that you'd want to avoid talking with him or her-few of us like confrontations-but this course of action (choice B) simply allows the problem to continue. Choice A goes further but doesn't get at the root of the problem. The concern isn't that the co-worker is yakking loudly but that he or she is spending so much time yakking. Lowering his or her voice may make life more bearable for you, but your colleague remains a time-waster. We're all in this together, so respectfully bringing up your concerns with him or her, as difficult as this may be, addresses the issues of fairness and making things better.
Choice C may be the hardest of the three to act upon, but ethically it's the best solution.
Your colleagues probably aren't maliciously spreading gossip but just continuing a discussion they started before arriving at the restaurant.
Their violation of client confidentiality is thus unintentional, but that still doesn't make it right, and if you ignore the matter (choice A), you allow the problematic behavior to continue. Unless you work for an organization that requires you to report any confidentiality violations, choice C is too harsh and will also unnecessarily damage your relationship with your colleagues. Choice B honors all five ethical
Being fair means that we should treat like cases alike, and unalike cases unalike. The fact that an employee has a personal connection to you isn't ethically relevant, regardless of how often this gets taken into account in business every day. Believing that the problem will go away on its own (choice B) is unrealistic, so continuing to cut the employee some slack isn't appropriate. Also, favoritism hurts the morale of everyone else working in the department. Nor is it right to bring your friend into the drama (choice C). He has no place in dealing with internal company problems, and it's irresponsible to have someone else do your job. Firing the errant employee (choice A) is the fair solution, regardless of any consequences to your friendship with her dad.
It's a privilege, not a right, to be treated to dinner on the company's expense, and this is a call that only the company can make. It's also a privilege to have a corporate credit card, and this privilege is based on the trust the company places in you not to abuse your expense account.
Choice A is theft, plain and simple, no matter how flush with cash a client's account may be. Choice C is honest and forthright, yes, but shouldn't everyone who works overtime be treated to family meals? Imagine how your co-workers would react if they found out that you were able to get a perk that they did not, even though they too made sacrifices for the company. Choice B is both honest and fair, and for these reasons, it's the best way to go.
With the above analysis in mind, here is how each choice should be
1. A = 1, B = 3, C = 2
2. A = 2, B = 1, C = 3
3. A = 1, B = 3, C = 2
4. A = 3, B = 2, C = 1
5. A = 1, B = 3, C = 2
IF YOU SCORED A TOTAL OF:
5-8: You tend to take the easy way out, or to consider your own needs and desires above those of others. It may be natural to be selfish, but this doesn't make it right.
9-13: Sometimes you take the high road, and sometimes you don't. Yes, it's sometimes difficult to find the courage to do what is right rather than what is convenient, but being ethical isn't a part-time commitment. Since you acknowledge the importance of doing the right thing, why not strive to do it all the time, rather than some of the time?
14-15: You not only know what the right thing is; you consistently do it, even when it's not so easy. Your friends, family, colleagues, and clients are fortunate that you're a part of their lives. Way to go!
This quiz is intended to be a springboard for reflection about what it means to do the right thing. Also, my analysis should be subject to debate; I may be wrong. Nevertheless, the idea is that some responses to ethical problems are better than others, and the way we discover what those responses are is by turning to the principles of ethics.
In future quizzes, I'll look at ethical issues in relationships outside of work. Stay tuned!
Editor's Note: Bruce Weinstein will discuss the ethics quiz and the ethics IQ today on Issue#1.