8 Questions to Ask in an Ethical Dilemma

My last semester in college began last week, and one of my courses is Business Ethics. So far, we’ve been looking at mission statements and ethical guidelines, using examples from companies like Medtronic and Cargil. We looked at a flowchart Medtronic uses to determine whether something is ethical or not, and it got me thinking about how difficult ethics can be sometimes. In a world obsessed with relativism and tolerance, how do you determine where your ethics lie? Religion? Philosophy? Experience? After all, ethical dilemmas can range from something as small as noticing a colleague taking home office supplies or as big as knowing funds are being embezzled in your company.

Regardless of what you use as your standard though, you can still run into gray areas, like the peer pressure to turn a blind eye to an issue that doesn’t really concern you. And what can you do in that situation? Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when facing ethical dilemmas in your workplace:

1. Is it legal?

2. Do my company’s guidelines address this issue?

3. Would this positively affect my company’s reputation?

4. How would I feel if my company’s stakeholders knew about this?

5. How would I feel if one of my superiors knew about this?

6. Would I be proud of my actions (or lack thereof) on this issue?

7. Could I justify my position on this stance in a year or two?

8. Would I be concerned if I saw this in a tomorrow’s news?

If you’re answering no or feeling uneasy about these questions, seek out help. Many companies have anonymous hotlines where you can report issues if you are afraid of retaliation from your peers or superiors.

Regardless of where you work or what you do, your ethics matter. It affects your company’s reputation and revenue, yours and your colleagues’ morale, and most of all, your own integrity. My professor introduced the Do : Say Ratio to my class, something I found very helpful. Basically, do what you say, and say what you do. Your integrity is important to your company, your colleagues, your family, your friends, and most importantly, yourself.

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