moral dilemma in the workplace

This essay focuses on a dilemma that I have faced in the workplace. Firstly, I will describe the dilemma and then present how I used ethical theory to analyse the actions that I took to best resolve the situation. Deontological theories are used in my analysis. Applying Kantian theory to my actions supports that my process for resolving the problem would be judged ethical. Ethical Dilemma

A dilemma refers to a situation that requires a choice between options that are or seem equally unfavorable or mutually exclusive (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2009) or a situation in which a choice must be made between alternative courses of action or argument. An Ethical dilemma is faced when an individual (or group) has to make a difficult choice, where no easy or logical answer is obvious, and where there are conflicting interests involved (Muntean, D. 2012) MGT230 Sample Essay, p1) An ethical dilemma occurs when a person behaves in a way that violates or goes against another person’s trust, loyalty, and integrity or destroys a person’s sense of worth and value. In the workplace it is important that individual’s values and ethical integrity be displayed with honest behavior at all times.

For the purpose of this essay we will be looking at a workplace ethical dilemma which can be defined as a “situation when employees are forced to choose between what is right or wrong according to their own principles” (Blanchard, Peale, 1998, p. 6). Workplace Dilemma My dilemma occurred when I worked as the Human Resource Manager for an engineering consultancy company based in the UAE . The Company is an Australian international consultancy, which has 80 offices globally, employing over 6000 employees. It prides itself on having a diverse multicultural workforce and follows Australian employment standards as a benchmark in all global offices. Ethical practices are one of the company’s core three values and are an integral part of the business, governing management’s principles and responsibilities.

The company is listed as one of the top 20 companies in the consultancy industry worldwide as a result. The Ethics charter states that “it is the objective of the company to conduct our business everywhere in the world with the highest standards of honesty, integrity and fairness”. At the time that I faced the dilemma, the company had just been awarded a major fast track project which required employees to work extensive amounts of overtime to be able to deliver the project on time. A number of the managers were discussing withholding compensating staff for overtime, to increase the overall profit on the job.

As part of the management team I did not agree with the strategy. I saw it as a ‘quick fix’ to improve their ‘bottom line’ to the detriment of the delivery staff. It is important to note, that at the time, businesses in the UAE were not required to pay professionals overtime, so they were not acting illegally. People often confuse legality and morality, however they are different things. It is a mistake to see laws as sufficient to establish the moral standards that should guide us (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 11).

Laws are distinctly focused on what is right and wrong in legal terms, whereby ethics is exercising ones moral judgement in abiding by those laws. This situation triggered a dilemma, as I was torn between my duty to fellow managers, protecting our employees and following my personal and professional morals. I was being asked to compromise personal standards to achieve manager’s goals. We must protect the interests of our stakeholders as well as our professional integrity and should not engage in activities that create actual, apparent or potential conflicts of interests (Winstanley & Woodall,1996, Volume No. , p. 5). In order to determine the correct course of action, I considered my options and reminded myself that I have a personal set of principles that defines my individual moral values and rules that guide my actions and behaviours that I choose to follow to enable me to work in harmony with others. The options that I considered at the time were as follows; * Agree with what was proposed by the management team, to not pay staff overtime.

Facilitating the company in making additional profit, benefiting in the short term the managers involved * Disagree with the management team and advise them that this would be acting in an unethical manner and be going against our company values; * Keep quiet and say nothing. I resolved my dilemma by informing management that failing to compensate staff for overtime was unethical behaviour and was against company values. Short-term goals may be achieved through such means however in the long run the business would retain its integrity and continue to be respected both internally and externally if good standards of conduct were followed.

I chose this action because I would not have been able to support management engaging in such an act knowing that the key driver was personal gain. I knew I should do what was morally correct, adhere to my personal ethical standards and promote the company’s values. It has been recognised that “poor standards of conduct emanating from the top management affect employee motivation and commitment” (Collins. D, 2009, p. 72). In the workplace it is not always realistic to apply Kant’s theory in the purest form and managers might be more persuaded to make ethical decisions based on Collins research rather than rely on pure moral consequences.

Application of Kantian Theory Kant’s theory of ethics is deontological. He focuses on the morality of actions and disregards the consequences of an action. It is absolute as the morality of an action takes no regard of the situation it is in. Kantian theory states “that a person’s choices should have nothing to do with the desired outcome, but instead mankind simply goes about doing good because it is morally correct” (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 72). The central principle of Kant’s ethical theory is what he refers to as Categorical Imperative.

Three of the key formulations which have been contemplated, developed and theorized by Kant are humanity as an end rather than a means, Universal Law and Good Will. These are applied below. As rational beings, humans would act inconstantly if they did not treat everyone else the way they themselves would want to be treated (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 75). Kant believed that “we should treat humanity as an end in itself; never as a means to an end” (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 75).

If I did not challenge management on overtime payments for our employees when the company was being paid by the client, I would be supporting them in using our employees as a means to their ends. This concept is primarily based on the fact that we must always treat and respect others in the same way we want to be treated. By staying quiet and not saying anything it would allow management to use our employees to achieve something they needed (profit) and not respecting the employee’s inner worth, rights and values. Individuals should never treat someone differently in an effort to achieve gain.

In other words, Kant developed the theory of, “treat others as you would like to be treated” (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 75) or the golden rule “do unto others as you would have done unto you”. I challenged management on whether; if it was them working on the project, would they want to be paid for overtime knowing that the company were being compensated by the client? They were treating staff to get gain. They were not treating them how they would want to be treated. Kant’s theory is to “act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 3). The maxim of my action was my intention, or perhaps better yet, the principle of my action to challenge management and protect the employees. I determined whether the universalized maxim could be a universal law, that is, whether it is possible for the managers to act as the universalized maxim requires. It is acceptable to challenge authority (management) if that authority is treating people unfairly. Kant argues that “the highest form of good is good will”. (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 200, p. 72) For Kant, this means to act out of a sense of moral obligation or “duty” not out of inclination.

To act out of inclination is to do something because it makes you feel good or because you hope to gain something from it. I personally was not working on the project, so therefore was not looking to be compensated for overtime. I was challenging the management team out of “good will” for our employees, not for my own self-interest, benefits or otherwise. I believed that as the moral agent I was acting on behalf of the employees. Not because of what it produced (its consequences) in terms of human experience, but because I recognized by reasoning that it is morally the right thing to do.

I regarded myself as having a moral duty and obligation to stand up for the employees and fight; for their rights. Kant said that “we should perform our duty because it is our duty and for no other reason. To perform an action out of desire for any self-indulgent consequences is not a morally good action. Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, (2009, p. 72) has suggested “Duty is good in itself”. CONCLUSION: Applying Kant’s theory to my situation gave me firm guidelines to follow in moral decision-making. Rules that do not depend on circumstances or results nd that do not permit individual or personal exceptions. Kant’s theoretic principles clearly forbid us to treat humans as a means to an end. Kant makes clear that everyone on earth should be treated as an ends and never as a means. Kant is basically saying that you always treat others with dignity and intrinsic worth. “Always treat others the way you would want to be treated”. By allowing management to not pay our staff for overtime, they were treating them as a means to an end. They would have never wanted to be treated this way themselves.

It is not enough according to Kant, “to just do the right thing; an action has moral worth only if it is done from a sense of duty” (Shaw, Barry & Sansbury, 2009, p. 72). I believed that my actions informing management that they were engaging in unethical behaviour had moral value as I was morally motivated; I was acting solely on moral principal. Other deontological theory state that people should adhere to their obligations and duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma. This means that I would have followed my obligations to the employees upholding my duty, standing up for what I believe to be considered ethically correct.

The Deontological theory used to asses my action, found my action to be ethical. I believe that Kantian’s theory can positively influence decision making, however may be difficult to rationalize decisions solely on this principle. I question would business ever be profitable if everyone adhered to Kant’s theory? Where does it end and what if people have differing ethical and moral standards. I believe what I did was Ethical in my actions however acknowledge that other managers in the team may not agree.


Blanchard, K. , and Peale, N. V. (1988) The Power of Ethical Management. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. Collins, Dennis. (2009). Essentials Business Ethics, New Jersey. John Willey & Sons. Muntean, Donata. (2012) MGT230 Sample Essay Shaw, W. , Barry, V. & Sansbury, G. (2009) Moral Issues in Business (1st Asia-Pacific ed. ), Cengage Learning. Melbourne, Australia The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company Winstanley, D. and Woodall, J. (1996). Business Ethics and Human Resource Management, Personnel Review, Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 5–12.

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