July 3rd, 2008
10:59 AM ET

What's Your Ethics IQ? Part 1: Ethics at Work

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:

1. Do No Harm
2. Make Things Better
3. Respect Others 1, 2
4. Be Fair 1, 2
5. Be Loving

Scenario #1
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.

Scenario #2
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.

Scenario #3
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

Scenario #4
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.

Scenario #5
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


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.

Filed under: Bruce Weinstein • Ethics
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. James Dylan

    I'm glad my grandparents didn't follow the sort of ethics described in the first question. They met in the military, at which time my grandmother was a superior officer and needless to say their relationship would have been frowned upon had they not hid it. To make a long story short; 9 grandchildren, 5 children, and going on their 65th year of marriage. This test doesn't fully express the possibilties life can attain, to say the least, for the same reasons the IQ test proves nothing.

    July 4, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Peter aka Breez991. Lakeworth Florida 33463

    From statement by Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek, "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."

    Man has built himself, with WORDS; a believed to be; Theoretical reality, in which there is MO Right, and NO Wrong: only a relativity of POINT OF VIEW!
    Is a necluiar powered aircraft carrier, equiped with and capable of deliverind an A-Bomb, A Terror-WPEON???

    It appears Americans forget: Whats good for the Goose; is good for the Gander

    Peter aka Breez991

    July 4, 2008 at 11:30 am |
  3. luis olivencia

    After 20+ plus years in military service, this quiz was a breeze, I scored 15! In short, all service members, regardless of rank or position, abides to the Code of Conduct. No exceptions! This code outlines basic responsibilities and obligations of members of the US Armed Forces. All members are expected to measure up to the standards. All violations can result in prosecution under military justice and in civilian personnel may result in disciplinary action without regard. We also have ethical values which are standards by which one should act based on values. Values are core beliefs such as duty, honor, and integrity that motivate atttitudes and actions. As a young child, my parent´s lesson was to always concern myself with my own doings and accept responsibility for my own actions and that of my brothers and sisters. Military service allowed me the opportunity to work and play by those words.

    July 4, 2008 at 10:07 am |
  4. Upama Rai

    I scored 14, so has so many who has commented on the quiz. I wonder its good to be so ethical in this day and age. People don't like being around someone who's so rightous. But it was good to know that everyone is fortunate enough to have me around. And its always wonderful to be in people's lives for all the right reasons.

    July 4, 2008 at 5:31 am |
  5. Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments! It is especially gratifying to learn that the quiz has sparked some conversation and reflection. That is really what it's for. The ethical dilemmas we face have many complicating factors to consider; I wrote this quiz not to suggest that difficult situations have easy answers, but simply to provoke thought about what many consider to be the most important question of all: how should we live?

    What would you like the next ethics quiz to be about? Dating? Marriage? Parenting? Your relationship with the media? Let me know, and I'll do my best to be of service! You can write to me directly, if you wish: Bruce at TheEthicsGuy.com.

    Have a happy and safe holiday everyone!

    Bruce Weinstein
    The Ethics Guy

    July 4, 2008 at 4:38 am |
  6. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Teresa, Oh........................

    Yes, yes, yes.......................we can watch screw ups climb the ladder and reach top management and sit and wonder..........or we emulate their carefree, happy, and go with the flow ways and start climbing the ladder faster than ever. Management struggles with employee attitude problems constantly. So...........you let go of your ego, become carefree, don't worry about how others are screw ups, do YOUR job. Watch how this transforms you towards success........................

    July 3, 2008 at 11:28 pm |
  7. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Well.................from the Office Space point of view, it isn't always the hard workers and people who do all the work that get the prize. It is better to go with the flow and not make waves. Show your best qualities and attitude. By surrendering to what IS, you get what you want and what you are suppose to get in the end. You Ethics people and too uptight..................tattle tales

    July 3, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  8. Heidi, Lou.Ky

    I have scored 14 , I am proud on my self, I am sup. in 1 distribution company , if you fair , you won't have problems , nobody likes favoritizm .. it has affect on peoples moral and also , building enemies to yourself , I am very proud on my associates , we work hard every day . If some things going wrong , we stop working ,having little meeting , I ask them for there opinion, then I bring decision based on general opinion in my department,,,,,and never judge anyone , that is key

    July 3, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  9. M.E. - Texas

    Bruce – excellent contribution. Loved it. I like others scored a 14 and would have no problem executing each of the examples. In fact, there are situations where I have done the same or similar in my real work environment(s). Anyone who would do otherwise should think long and hard about their alignment of personal integrity and the ethics of their employer. Personal integrity is not something that is disrobed when we walk into our place of employment and then cloak ourselves with it after we leave work. There's alot to be said for the fact that when we interview for a job – we are hired for our strengths. If we let those strengths take a backseat and allow weaknesses to surface – then we are no longer fullfilling the needs of our employer. Even if there appears to be a large % of individuals who are unethical - in the overall scheme that would not be the reality. If it were, the company would be in financial distress or non-existant.

    July 3, 2008 at 9:21 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    Good quiz. I got a 14 because I don't like confrontations and didn't pick the one where you go talk to your co-worker. I think some of this will vary from company to company but at the one I worked at it was always stressed to let the supervisor do those sorts of confrontations.

    Keep the ethics info coming. Its quite instructive and refreshing to see someone actually talking about it these days.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 3, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  11. Malinda

    My sister and I just had a chat about business ethics today. I can't believe I scored 12, because I feel I'm a pretty ethical person. Will be re-thinking some things, but quizzes like these are always too vague.

    July 3, 2008 at 9:18 pm |
  12. Jolene

    Bruce: Very interesting. I enjoyed taking the quiz and couldn't agree with you more. As a manager, it is never fun to fire people or to work with those who are working below company expectations. It really is a two-way street and being ethical is the responsibility of each and every one of us. If anything your quiz is a great way to initiate the conversation and make it clear what is and is not considered acceptable behavior in the workplace culture. Thanks. I just might use it!

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    July 3, 2008 at 9:16 pm |
  13. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    I flunked!

    July 3, 2008 at 9:05 pm |
  14. Matt in Elsie, MI

    I ended up receiving an 14 on this quiz but I know for a fact that I wouldn't do a couple of these situations like I answered. For example, I would be too afraid to tell the people in questions 2 and 3 about what to do in those types of situations. Overall, great quiz!!

    July 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  15. Almesha in MS

    I scored 14. I chose option C from situation 3 but I was in a situation like this before and what I did was to speak to my colleagues first and because of their negative reaction I brought the matter to my boss' attention.

    July 3, 2008 at 7:21 pm |
  16. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    First, I enjoy immensely brain teasers and scenarios that make one use their grey matter. That is why Suduko puzzles are best.

    Please keep these coming, they are nice.

    On the scoring I got a 14. I see that where I erred was in being to harsh on the talking colleagues at lunch. But in a world where name dropping of clients is a lawsuit for the company, wouldn't it be best to inform both the colleagues and the boss?

    July 3, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  17. Lisa

    I agree with JC - it does seem that our society rewards those who are unethical. And while 2 wrongs don't make a right, I do wonder why it is that I am working my butt off, living paycheck to paycheck and watching while others who are not completely honest are getting ahead.

    My ex-boss had a plaque in his office. It took me awhile but I finally learned what it meant. "No good deed goes unpunished."

    July 3, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  18. marcy

    I scored a 12 becasue it wasn't clear to me if i was a supervisor or co worker in some of the areas and i answered it like a co-worker (keep my head down ... do my job kind of thing)

    Marcy, Mobile, AL

    July 3, 2008 at 3:51 pm |
  19. Ruby Coria, LA. CA.

    Bruce, cool article., now if we could just avoid all of those situations.

    July 3, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  20. JC- Los Angeles

    Although I firmly believe that man is basically good and ethical, a disproportionate number of executives, politicians and leaders who reach the pinnacle of their professions often fail to possess the ethical strand of DNA.

    In today's America there seems to be no nobility placed upon hard working Americans who do the right thing, work hard and pursue an ethical American dream. Ethical, hard working Americans today are left with: $5 gas, rising unemployment, healthcare concerns, corporate malfeasance, billions of dollars in writedowns, a crashing stock market, massive foreclosures, a flawed Federal Reserve, crooked politicians, a war in Iraq and an uncertain future.

    If you look at these issues individually, you will find nary a hint of ethics; if you look at them collectively, ethics would be the last word that would come to mind.

    The American people deserve an apology from our failed and often unethical leaders; when someone finally mans up and admits mistakes, we may have the beginning of an ethical conversation.

    July 3, 2008 at 2:40 pm |
  21. Teresa, Oh

    Here is what I have discovered in every single job I have had: most of us start off doing the ethical thing right from the get go. We stay pretty focused on that UNTIL a higher up ticks us off. Then, we start what I call the Assessment Period. We start spending more time focusing on who really IS doing the bulk of the work. And come to the conclusion it is us Peons carrying the workload. We watch who takes long breaks, makes personal phone calls, and is Unethical. As time goes by, we eventually become LIKE them even though in our minds, we dont see it. We see ourselves as better than "them". "Them", of course, being the higher ups in management. If the higher ups are unethical, we lower peons aren't going to waste our good character trying to build up their business, are we?

    Life would be so simple if we all embraced the concept of right/ wrong.

    July 3, 2008 at 1:16 pm |
  22. Dawn T.-Pittsburgh/Monroeville, PA

    Loved it! Keep'em coming 🙂

    July 3, 2008 at 12:36 pm |
  23. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    I think this quiz is kinda silly. I scored a 14 but while I know those were the right answers it doesn’t mean I would actually do them all. Like I think I would have a hard time telling a coworker they needed to stop talking on the phone so much. Isn’t that a manager or supervisors job, not mine? I would ask them to tone down, but I don’t think it’s my place to tell someone what there job is and when they aren’t doing it.

    July 3, 2008 at 11:25 am |