What would you do if you saw a co-worker stealing supplies from the office, or discovered that another employee was using company time to run a side business? People encounter ethical dilemmas like these in their workplaces all the time, and while it's usually clear when an employee is doing something wrong, it's not always clear how to handle the situation.
"We all have an innate ethic sense that lets us know the right thing to do, but we don't always follow it," said Mark Pastin, an ethics consultant and author of "Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action" (Berrett-Koehler, 2013). "Employees may go along with something they think is unethical because they fear the consequences of raising the issue."
Pastin defined four major ethics personality types, and noted that each one handles workplace ethics differently:
- The Conformist — This employee follows rules, rather than questioning authority figures, and tends to do things "by the book." One might think this ethical type could be counted on to always do the right thing, but the Conformist might look the other way if higher-up staff member were acting unethical, since a manager is someone he or she is supposed to obey. The Conformist will run into work-related ethical conflicts unless his or her organization has a set of rigid rules and well-defined consequences for not following them.
- The Navigator — When confronted with a situation in which people are behaving unethically, Navigators rely on their innate ethics sense to guide their actions, even if these decisions aren't easy. This ethical type has a generally sound moral compass, which gives the Navigator the flexibility to make choices — even unpopular ones. Navigators' ethical sense imbues them with qualities of leadership, and others learn to respect and count on them. They will succeed in most organizations but will leave a company that is unethical.
- The Negotiator — Negotiators try to make up the rules as they go along. When faced with a sketchy situation, such as a co-worker drinking on his or her lunch hour, the Negotiator might take a wait-and-see attitude to see if the incident affects his or her job in any way, to see if the drinking gets any worse or to see if anyone else notices. Navigators will encounter ethics-related trouble if their jobs require them to exercise judgment without guidelines, because they change the rules according to what seems easiest at the time.
- The Wiggler — The Wiggler doesn't give a lot of thought to what is right, but instead takes the route that's most advantageous to him or her. For example, Wigglers may lie to appease a supervisor but refuse to lie again if they sense that others are beginning to suspect the supervisor. Wigglers are mostly motivated by self-interest — getting on a manager's good side, scoring a better deal for themselves or avoiding conflict. They will run into trouble when others sense that they dodge ethical issues to protect their own interests.
While no one wants to be perceived as the office whistle-blower, Pastin said, employees would naturally act more ethically by making better use of their abilities to sympathize and empathize with people affected by their actions. He also believes that ethical dilemmas are completely solvable if employees and managers are open to discussing them.
"Most ethical issues that arise in the work environment can be solved if raised in a timely manner," Pastin told BusinessNewsDaily. "The problem is that many people avoid speaking in terms of ethical concerns. Welcome disagreement and controversy in the office to foster a more ethical work environment."
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.