By Christian Chen, Staff Writer
Imagine the following scenario: you are at work and your employer or supervisor asks you to do something that you find unethical, or against your moral values, or your colleagues are seen doing something unethical or against your moral code. What do you do? Do you sit back and watch what happens, or do you act and speak up about it? Is there a proper course of action to deal with this situation without worsening the situation or getting yourself fired?
Dealing with ethical or moral conflicts in the workplace is tricky because the situation changes. It usually depends on what’s going on and who is involved. Each person involved with a moral conflict, as well as the type of moral conflict specified, could affect how the ethical issue is resolved.
For example, if it is one of your coworkers, it may damage your colleague’s reputation, or destroy a friendship between the two of you. If it is your boss or supervisor, you could get fired. Knowing what to do is difficult, it helps to learn how people sometimes deal with these situations. For example, one category of people you may encounter are ‘conformists.’ This type of person typically follows orders without questioning them and may look the other way if other people and/or their superiors do unethical things. They do not want to get involved because they would much rather follow the crowd.
Another category of people can be considered as ‘navigators.’ They let their own moral conscience guide their actions, which imbues them with a sense of leadership and others learn to respect and count on them. They will succeed in life, but will eventually leave their jobs if there are unethical practices discovered within.
A third category are called the ‘negotiators.’ This kind of person makes up the rules as he or she goes along. If someone were to be caught drinking on the job, for example, the negotiator could wait and see if this act affects them negatively, or if other colleagues notice their behavior at work.
Finally, you have the ‘wigglers.’ These people take the routes that are most advantageous to them. They may lie to appease supervisors but may refuse to carry on with said lie when other people suspect the supervisor. Wigglers are generally greedy people, and this will eventually land them in trouble for tweaking the rules for their own ends at work.
In realistic settings, people have been shown to possess a natural tendency to sympathize or empathize with colleagues affected by other people’s actions. Most people agree that ethical problems could be solved if they were handled in a timely or professional manner. The real problem, however, is when people are afraid to speak up when ethical problems do arise in the workplace.
Now, personally I have never been a situation where an ethical problem arose at my internship, but I can say that I do have an idea of how I could handle a situation if such an incident arises. I agree that there are people that handle their problems in the workplace differently. I haven’t seen any of them personally, but I can be sure that such people are out there. Personally, I am more of a negotiator, but I also am big on accountability, though reporting dishonest behavior is sometimes better said than done. If I found my colleagues doing something suspicious I could talk to my supervisors.
I would tell people who are reading this and who are hesitant about speaking out about moral or ethical issues at work the following information: if you see something, say something. Reporting an unethical incident is better than sitting back and doing nothing. The only way the accountability system works is if people actually went ahead and used it. Of course, you could look into what other people have done in situations and know what to expect the next time you take a certain course of action.
What I can say for sure is this: Once you actually take that difficult step of speaking up about unethical practices or behavior that goes against ethical practices in the workplace, regardless of the outcome, you can be assured that you at least took action instead of just sitting back and doing nothing at all.