An ethical dilemma is a conflict between alternatives where, no matter what a person does, some ethical principle will be compromised. Analyzing the options and their consequences provides the basic elements for decision-making.
To do or not to do, that is the question you ask yourself every morning when you hit the snooze on your alarm. Life offers plenty of little dilemmas that kill you with a smile. Choosing between two of your favorite shirts, struggling to decide whether or not to get a haircut, choosing between the dinner you promised your girlfriend and an impromptu guys’ night out—you make a variety of decisions every day.
The little choices that you make in your daily life are probably quite different than ethical decisions. Ethical decisions involve analyzing different options, eliminating those with an unethical standpoint and choosing the best ethical alternative. But that begs the question, what are ethics?
What are ethics?
Ethics are the well-grounded standards of right and wrong that dictate what humans ought to do. These are usually put in terms of rights, duties, benefits to the society, fairness and other specific virtues. They outline a framework to establish what conduct is right or wrong for individuals and broader groups in society.
It’s important to recognize that our individual ethics must also engage with the ethics of other people involved in the situation, e.g., our parents, colleagues, clients, etc. The laws of the land, rules set by society, and policies set out by the organization one works for, philosophical schools of thought, moral foundations and many other such considerations govern ethics. Thus, doing ‘the right thing’ becomes a combination of personal, professional and societal ethics.
How can you decide if something is ethically right or wrong?
How to decide if something is ethically right or wrong? (Photo Credit: Pixabay)
What is an ethical dilemma?
An ethical dilemma is a conflict between alternatives, where choosing any of them will lead to a compromise of some ethical principle and lead to an ethical violation. A crucial feature of an ethical dilemma is that the person faced with it should do both the conflicting acts, based on a strong ethical compass, but cannot; he may only choose one.
Not choosing one is the condition that allows the person to choose the other. Thus, the same act is both required and forbidden at the same time. He is condemned to an ethical failure, meaning that no matter what he does, he will do something wrong.
When people encounter these tough choices, an ethical failure rarely occurs because of a temptation, but simply because choosing any of the conflicting actions will involve sacrificing a principle in which they believe.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE FACING
AN ETHICAL DILEMMA AT WORK
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.