Hair Color and Workplace Professionalism
Every once in a while I read a survey about workplace attributes and behavior that gives me pause. This is the case with a new study from Australia that basically concludes good grooming in the workplace can make the difference between having a successful career and not. Red hair is considered the least professional hair color in the workplace.
According to the study,
This is not a joke. It is not April Fools’ Day. It is, however, a sexist survey better fit for the 15th to 18th century than 2013.
Australian etiquette expert Anna Musson, Founder of Good Manners Company, a blonde by the way (go figure), believes that if we're serious about our jobs then personal grooming must be a high priority.
"It is possible that management, who see you briefly in meetings, have formed a completely incongruous opinion of your professionalism, based on the effort you have put into grooming," Musson says. "We make the assumption that a person who puts effort into their appearance also puts effort into their work. We believe if a person is disciplined in one area, they are disciplined in many. These are the people we hire in our businesses, we promote them, we reward them and we have high expectations of them because of the perception they are more capable."
Musson concludes that the findings show it certainly makes a case for spending more time in front of the mirror each morning, and paying better attention to what we wear.
As a researcher and writer I decided to delve into this topic a bit further and want to share some interesting observations in society and facts about redheads. According to Redhead Handbook: A Fun and Comprehensive Guide to Red Hair and More (Yes, there is such a book) by Cort Cass, people who are natural redheads inherit their hair color from genetic traits passed down from both parents. Since red hair is a recessive trait, both parents must have a red hair gene to pass down in order to have red-haired children. People who do not have red hair but carry the gene, pass it down to their children.
There are fewer than 4 percent of redheads in the world and more redheads are found in the United Kingdom than the United States, according to Marion Roach, author of The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair. Yet, despite their small numbers, throughout history red hair has attracted and repelled, inciting emotions from awe to fear and condemnation.
Throughout history, people with red hair have experienced persecution in various forms. During the height of the 16th and 17th century witch trials in Europe, red hair was considered a mark of witchcraft and red-haired women were put to death. In The Ginger Survival Guide: Everything the Redhead Needs to Cope in a Gingerist Cruel World (seriously?), author Tim Collins notes that some Renaissance paintings depicted Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus, with red hair. The misconception of red-haired people continues to this day. Natural redheads are sometimes stereotyped as being highly sexual and hot-tempered. I have no experience on this matter to voice my opinion.
Perhaps redheads should become comedians. After all, both Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, two of the most famous comedians, are redheads.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 17, 2013
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In its ongoing "Operation Shell Expel" to protect investors from fraud, The Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading last week in the securities of 61 empty shell companies. The initiative is a crackdown against the manipulation of microcap shell companies that are “ripe for fraud as they lay dormant in the over-the-counter market,” the SEC announced in a statement.
From A (Austin Farms Inc) to Z (Zone Mining Ltd), these 61 companies are delinquent in their public filings and seemingly no longer in business. “Once they become dormant they have great potential to be hijacked by fraudsters who falsely hype the stock to portray it as a thriving company and coerce investors into ‘pump-and-dump’ schemes,” the SEC said.
A “Pump-and-Dump” scheme is one of the most common types of fraud against investors. False and misleading statements about a company’s stock are posted on social media sites, as well as on bulletin boards and chat rooms. Scammers purchase the stock at a low price before pumping the stock price higher by creating the appearance of market activity and drawing investor interest. Then they dump the stock for significant profit by selling it into the market at the higher price once investors have bought in. Once they dump their shares, the stock price tumbles and investors lose their money.
Stock manipulators look for empty shell companies that they can use to conduct pump-and-dump schemes and line their pockets with illicit trading profits by taking advantage of unsuspecting investors. A pump and dump scheme takes advantage of the fact that stock prices are only partially tied to the real value of a given company. Sometimes, a stock, or group of stocks or even the entire market will rise or fall purely because of speculation. A catastrophe occurs, such as 9-11, investors think companies will be worth less money in the future, and so they sell, starting a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or a company puts out a press release anticipating future progress, and so investors buy in, raising the price of the stock.
It sounds like something right out of Gordon Gekko’s playback – “Greed is good,” as Gordon said in the movie Wall Street. Over the years many of us have equated greed with our capitalist system of economics. Those in the know take advantage of those looking in from the outside. The pursuit of self-interest rules the day rather than making decisions after considering the effects of possible actions on the stakeholders.
This isn’t the way it is supposed to be in America. It is sometimes hard to remember, however, these cases are the exception and not the rule. If they were the rule, all chaos would break out and the stock market would collapse out of a lack of trust in the entire system.
However, financial fraud seems to be on the rise and the fraudsters are getting greedier by the minute. A good example is the decisions of many financial institutions that ushered in the great recession. And then there are the Ponzi schemers like Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff. Stanford received a 110 year prison sentence for bilking investors out of more than $7 billion over two decades. In March 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies that defrauded thousands of investors of about $65 billion. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum allowed.
So, it was not surprising to me that the SEC uncovered the pump and dump schemes. The crooks always seem to be at least one step ahead of the regulators. The SEC needs to develop a forensic accounting and auditing division that focuses on spotting the red flags that fraud may be present. It also needs to encourage tip-giving and whistleblowing.
The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act contains whistleblower provisions. I have mixed feelings about blowing the whistle on one’s employer without first following prescribed steps to identify and stop fraud. However, once that has been done whistleblowers should be encouraged to come forward and provide information about the fraud to the SEC. It is perhaps the best way to protect the public interest.
It is a sad fact in business today but all too many will engage in unethical, and even illegal actions, so long as they can and will only stop once they get caught.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 13, 2013
Work Ethic is the Key to Education
A few days ago Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant ignited a heated debate by claiming that standards in education have declined in line with women returning to the workplace.
Speaking during a televised panel discussion, Republican Governor Bryant quickly realized his controversial remarks would cause a backlash from those who oppose his views, but he stood by his claims.
He pointed out however that he was not trying to blame working women for children's declining education.
In response to a question asking why American children's test results had become 'so mediocre', he told the panel, hosted by the Washington Post: 'Both parents started working, and the mom is in the work place. That's not a bad thing. I'm going to get in trouble. I can just see - I can see the emails tomorrow. But now, both parents are working. They're pursuing careers. It's a great American story now - that women are in the work place.'
He went on to say that he didn't believe it was the mother's place to teach children to read, but said that before women started working, there was a 'loving, nurturing opportunity' and both parents had a more time to devote to the family.
Equal opportunities for women began notably in the 1950s and 60s. The struggle for women to be accepted as equal in the workplace is epitomized in the successful TV series Mad Men, set during this period.
Prior to this the traditional role for women was to act as the matriarch, to be the mother and home-maker, cook and cleaner and to keep the house in order.
What are we to make of Governor Bryant’s comments? Do they ring true? Are they discriminatory against women? Are they naïve? The answer is ‘all of the above.’
There is no doubt a two working parent family can harm a child’s educational development. Some kids are left home alone and undoubtedly choose not to study but, instead, play video games or interact with their smart phones, tablets, computers, and so on. But it goes much deeper. Kids are not brought up with the work ethic required to have the discipline to complete homework before turning to different forms of entertainment.
It’s a work ethic and discipline problem and dads are as much to blame as moms. A strong work ethic is difficult to develop even though both parents might be working full time to financially support the family and, therefore, exhibit a strong work ethic. A strong work ethic comes from a strong sense of ethics, and that is where the problem lies.
Kids are not taught to act responsibly and there are little or no consequences for actions. Kids believe they are entitled to have certain things and have them their way. Basic standards of behavior do not exist anymore in society.
The pursuit of excellence is the underpinning of virtue ethics. It is clear, at least to me, that we no longer are a society that values the pursuit of excellence for its own sake.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 11, 2013
We all have heard about the IRS targeting conservative-oriented groups for closer scrutiny and unfair questioning with respect to their application for tax-exempt-status. There is no doubt this was an unethical practice and violated the basic right for all groups to be treated equally in the oversight process regardless of their political or ideological perspective. This blog is about the abuse of taxpayer money by the IRS for excessive spending on clowns, mind readers and lavish parties during a training conference just outside Las Vegas, claims that officials awarded a $58,808 contract to a large audio and visual services firm, Royal Productions, when federal regulations require contracts of such size be reserved for small businesses.
I have blogged about similar abuses at another government agency, the General Services Administration. In April 2012, the GSA Inspector General’s Report strongly criticized the agency for wasteful spending in November 2010 in connection with spending $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference. Congress’ House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings on the matter and called the GSA action indicative of a “culture of wasteful spending.”
The Treasury Inspector General (IG) for Tax Administration has come to a similar conclusion in the case of the IRS. The matter is worse in the case of the IRS because it is not only the lavish parties but the bidding process also has come under scrutiny.
The IG said the agency violated federal rules by neglecting to publish a solicitation for the contract on the government’s list of Federal Business Opportunities and by providing Royal Productions with a competing bidder’s quote for the Las Vegas conference — thus allowing the company to present a winning offer. This is basic ethics. The bidding process must be above board and confidential. It didn’t help matters from an ethical perspective that the agency paid roughly double what the contract outlined for the company’s employees’ hotel rooms, according to the report.
The problems go deeper for the IRS and seems to be ingrained in its culture. The report points out in a 2010 conference in Anaheim, the IG received a specific complaint alleging overspending at that conference and it was the most expensive IRS conference during that period. Overall, the IG found that the IRS spent $49 million on 225 conferences from 2010 through 2012.
The conference in Anaheim involved 2,609 small business executives and managers (SB/SE) at Sheraton, Marriott, and Hilton hotels and reportedly cost $4.1 million (the IRS was unable to establish exactly how much it cost). Despite the availability within the IRS of event planners, the SB/SE division used two outside event planners who received commissions from the hotels of $133,000, which were based on the number of rooms the IRS used.
The IG also found that the IRS could have negotiated lower rates had it not accepted other benefits from the hotels including suite upgrades, two of which were presidential suites that cost between $1,500 and $3,500 per night that were provided to SB/SE division executives for $135 per night. Other benefits included free cocktails and promotional gifts, such as logoed brief bags, engraved pens, picture frames, and clocks.
There is more. The IG report mentions that the conference paid $135,350 for 15 outside speakers, including two keynote speakers. One of the keynote speakers was paid $17,000 to paint portraits of various famous people and the Statue of Liberty and give them to audience members. Three of the paintings were later sold at auction for small amounts. The second speaker was paid $27,500 for two one-hour motivational speeches on radical innovation.
Most likely some of the problem is in the data gathering and oversight of conferences and other events by IRS administrators. However, these incidents, along with the current scandal on targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny of their applications for tax-exempt status, together reflect a culture of indifference and ethical blindness that seems to infect many agencies of the U.S. government. This is a troublesome trend because it goes against the very people to be served – the public.
In the IRS case I don’t think a general housekeeping and firing of certain employees are enough. I call on Congress to appoint an independent overseer of the IRS and do a complete audit of its processes and procedures by an independent audit firm. The public interest must be protected from encroachment on its rights by the government.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 6, 2013
What can Employers do to slow the Rising Tide of Workplace Violence?
The issue of workplace violence became a subject of media attention after the series of Post Office murders that occurred throughout the 1980s and 1990s. While such shootings are relatively rare, the impact of non-fatal workplace violence is significant, with the FBI estimating in 2011 that such crimes cost the American workforce approximately $36 billion per year.
The U.S. Department of Labor defines workplace violence as “any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at [a] worksite.” The FBI further separates workplace violence into four categories based on victim-perpetrator relationship. These depend on whether a perpetrator: has no prior relation to an establishment or its employees (Type I); is a patron of an establishment (Type II); is a current or former employee (Type III); or is having a personal relationship with an employee (Type IV).
Although men who are victimized while working are more likely to be attacked by a stranger, women are more likely to be attacked by someone known to them. Five percent (5%) of the women victimized at work are attacked by a husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. One-sixth of workplace homicides of women are committed by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. For every murder, there are numerous rapes and assaults that often leave victims battered and disabled. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, boyfriends and husbands, current and former, commit more than 13,000 acts of violence against women in the workplace every year.
Last August, Steven Ercolino died after being shot five times outside the Empire State Building in New York. Police identified the shooter as Jeffrey Johnson. Former co-workers, Johnson reportedly blamed Ercolino for the loss of his job as a clothing designer two years ago. Last September, Andrew Engeldinger was fired from his job -- and returned to the Minneapolis sign company where he worked and according to police shot five people. Reports stated that he was targeting management people.
While these are isolated events, the question is whether there are ways to protect yourself and your co-workers from a potentially unstable peer? I recently read about such advice from Park Dietz, M.D., Ph.D. and president of the Threat Assessment Group in Newport Beach, California, who has testified and consulted on some of the most notable cases of workplace and school violence in recent history, including the attempt on the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the massacre at Columbine, and a previous shooting at the Empire State building. His company helps companies, schools and government agencies prepare for and prevent violence in the workplace. Here's what he says we should all know:
According to Park Dietz, short of violence in progress, nothing is a reliable sign that someone is about to "erupt." He says the idea of someone "just snapping" is a media fiction. Every case of an employee or former employee who did serious harm to a coworker has a long history of less serious early and late phase warning signs that were not adequately managed, often because no one reported what they knew to a manager who knew what to do.
Dietz says the early indicators, such as emotional outbursts, secretiveness, or attendance problems are good predictors of poor performance, job loss, and a need for the kinds of services available from employee assistance programs, but they are poor predictors of violence. The late indicators, such as stalking, paranoid accusations of a conspiracy, or overt threats to harm someone are fairly obvious, but even these may not get reported to a manager who knows what to do until it is too late.
Studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other organizations show that employers who implement effective safety measures can reduce the incidence of workplace violence. These measures include training employees on workplace violence, encouraging employees to report assaults or threats, and conducting workplace violence hazard analyses. Other methods such as using entrance door detectors or buzzer systems in retail establishments, and providing adequately trained staff, alarms and employee "safe rooms" for use during emergencies in healthcare settings can help minimize risk.
If you are concerned as a manger about the potential for violence in your workplace, the best way to handle it is to immediately report any behavior of concern to human resources, security, or the manager in charge of your facility. If your company has received competent training, they will take it from there and will do everything reasonably possible to keep your safety -- along with that of other employees and visitors -- paramount in their decision-making. It can make it more difficult for the company to safely manage the situation if someone unnecessarily involves the police, obtains a restraining order, or starts spreading rumors, so report your concerns to management and avoid discussing them with your peers.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 5, 2013
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The Ethics of Looking for a Job
During the past few months I’ve counseled my students on job interviewing and have observed some behavior that concerns me. Most students know an outright lie is wrong such as overstating one’s GPA, making up jobs that do not exist, or falsifying recommendation letters. Some students draw the line there and do not think there is anything wrong with a little exaggeration. For example, being a lifeguard and describing the experience as “aquatic recreation management supervisor,” or citing supervisory experience when all it is was babysitting.
The problem with exaggeration is it misleads the potential interviewer about your experiences and you may be hired to do a job that you are not qualified to do. Sooner or later you will get caught in a situation where your employer will expect you to have meaningful experience in a field you know little about. Exaggerating on one’s CV or in an interview is also unethical because it is unfair to the interviewer and company interviewing you that is acting in good faith in giving you the opportunity. You, on the other hand, are pursuing your own interests, as you perceive them, and ignoring the interests of others. It sets a terrible tone for the way you may function in the workplace.
Here are two more situations I see very often with students.
Is it okay to accept a job offer and then retract it later if something “better” comes along?
This is a cardinal sin of job-hunting. You have given your promise and then reneged. How can you be trusted in the workplace? Going back on your word shows a lack of integrity. A person of integrity lives by ethical standards and does not make decisions without considering the consequences of actions. I can tell you from first-hand experience that firms share information, and you never know “who knows who.” Imagine if you accepted a second offer after backing out on the first, and then the two recruiters who know each other find out. It will put a permanent black mark on your record.
Should you interview for or accept a job with a long-term commitment when you have short-range future plans?
This may be a bit more complicated. It depends mainly on whether you have been up front about your plans. In other words what was your intent? Intent demonstrates ethicalness and sensitivity to others' interests. You cannot be a valued employee in the workplace without caring about others and being empathetic.
If you are looking for a job for a year or two and then plan to move on, it may be acceptable. In fact, the average person changes jobs every two years. You may even find you like where you are working and decide to stay longer. On the other hand, if you know you are moving out of town after a year and you take a job with a local firm knowing it has an expectation of a long-term commitment, then you are misleading the employer about your intentions. The employer invests a great deal of time and money in you as a new employee to prepare you for a career. It shows a lack of responsibility to accept a job and then leave where those were your intentions from the get-go and not because the job is not working out.
Research has shown that college students tend to be unaware of their ethical options and to act egocentrically without understanding the implications of their behavior. My advice is to think through the consequences of your actions before you decide how to approach a job inquiry, interview, and after landing the job. You build a reputation for trust one day at a time, and it takes a long time to build that reputation but not very long to destroy it. Just ask Lance Armstrong.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 30, 2013
A blog response to Should Quotas be set to Expand Board Opportunities for Women?
I have previously blogged about the difficulty women have “Breaking through the Glass Ceiling” and “Should Quotas be set to Expand Board Opportunities for Women?” I recently received a blog comment from a reader named Verity who wrote the essay below. I like to post these extensive comments especially when they are submitted as part of an academic assignment to give greater visibility to those comments and the issues they address. Before doing so I would add to my original blog and thoughts about whether quotas should be set to get more women on boards of directors the point that putting more women on the board is a smart choice from a corporate governance perspective and it best represents a variety of stakeholder interests.
Guest Blog by Verity
The title of your blog poses a compelling question which was why I chose to look at it for my assignment – should quotas be set to expand board opportunities for women.
A quota is just one of the many examples of an affirmative action policy. This type of Affirmative action policy is used in organisations as a way of regulating employees in the workplace. The original purpose for implementing an affirmative action policy was to help correct past wrongs experienced by members of minority groups. In the article, “Goals and Quotas in hiring and promotion”, Tom L. Beauchamp discusses the original meaning of an affirmative action. He wrote that the original meaning was minimalistic by definition with the main intent of a quota policy was to protect against discrimination and safeguard equal opportunities.
The author of this blog mentions that women’s progress can be impeded within an organisation and that women can experience challenges that often do not apply to men. This is considered due cause for considering an affirmative action policy as it could be said that setting a quota is a way of “leveling the playing field” for minority groups and, as in this example, for women. As the author pointed out, there has long been a thought that women are more emotional and therefore are considered weaker, which then can translate into the business arena with women often being disadvantaged when compared with a same or similar position held by a male counterpart.
I consider that setting a quota could trigger one of two potential outcomes: 1 – a positive outcome where women are regarded no differently from their male counterparts and vice versa and 2 – women are disadvantaged by unfair treatment compared to their male counterparts in a same or similar position. To answer the question of whether quotas are a morally justifiable action, I believe that the intention of the policy needs to be considered. What is the point of the quota? Beauchamp stated in his article that companies who utilise affirmative action policies can promote diversity in the workplace which creates instances of lower staff turnover. The company can attract higher quality employees and the company can also experience increased customer satisfaction.
These results would be considered ethical for many reasons such as the increased happiness experienced by stakeholders, customers and employees. It can also be said that the principle behind setting the quota had good intent which would be viewed favourably. Finally, setting a quota with the intention of creating a harmonious balance in the workplace is a display of virtuous traits (fairness and equality for people previously disadvantaged and justice for previous wrong-doings) which adds further support for a quota to be viewed as an ethical action. If these results are what the company is trying to achieve with the quota setting, then it is likely that it would be considered an ethical action to take.
The author considers the imposition of a quota to be a mistake as it is thought that it highlights the lack of fairness and it implies that women are not qualified on their own merits. By setting a quota an organisation appears to be extending liberties that are not necessarily available to all people in order to fulfill a target or goal set by the organisation. More potential negative outcomes are discussed in the article “Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?” by Stephen Coate and Glenn C. Loury. They consider that quota policies are often put in place to help combat stereotypes around minority groups. The quota policy has the potential to either reduce or remove the negative stereotype or it has potential to worsen the stereotype. They also consider that affirmative action policies can force employers to employ to lower standards which have a flow on effect to their employee skill base and employee performance. Understandably, these types of outcomes are probably not what the organisation would have wanted as a result of setting a quota but they are potential negative issues that could arise.
Along with the author, I personally believe that quotas can cause more harm than good. Much progress has been made in the workforce and women are regarded more highly for the unique skills and attributes they can bring to the work arena now than in the past. I believe that setting a quota could cause this progress to be stalled or reversed.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 27, 2013
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Yahoo’s CEO extends Family Leave Policy after Giving Birth
Last month Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer extended the paid parental leave policy of the company for both new mothers and fathers at Yahoo who can now take eight weeks of paid parental leave, and the mothers can take an additional eight weeks. What's more, new parents will also receive $500 to buy items like groceries and baby clothes.
It's part of a slate of new benefits "to support the happiness and well-being of Yahoos and their families," the company confirmed via email. Mayer was undoubtedly influenced by her own experience giving birth while serving as the CEO.
These policies are nothing new for Silicon Valley companies including Google that offers seven weeks of paid leave for parents who did not give birth, while new mothers can take off between 18 to 22 weeks. Facebook offers four paid months for both parents and $4,000 in "baby cash."
The question I raise in this blog is how employees who do not meet the requirements of the policy feel about their co-workers receiving liberal paid leaves.
In a research study, published in the April 2013 issue of the Southern Communication Journal, Justin Boren, a professor at Santa Clara University, and co-author Shannon Johnson of James Madison University, explore messages of peer resentment expressed in the workplace and the perceived likelihood of making use of work/family policies. In their national survey of 474 workers, the authors found that many workers reported overhearing resentment messages from co-workers. Things like “I resent my colleagues who make use of work-family policies” and “I can’t stand when other people get to use policies for leave, and I don’t.” As a result, many workers said they would feel guilty for taking their full complement of benefits, if it meant leaving their colleagues to “pick up the slack.”
Often, Boren says, the resentment stems from subtle, unstated expectations about performance and production. These statements are sometimes embedded in the culture of the organization.
“The stress of trying to balance work life and family life is really exacerbated when colleagues say that you are letting the team down if you take your legal or company-granted benefits,” said Boren, an expert on social support in organizations.
The research also found:
*Those who were approaching or who had reached job burnout, were less likely to take advantage of the policies often in place to help prevent burnout
*A lack of support from peers has a tremendous effect on one’s feeling that they can legitimately take time off.
*Organizations that enhance co-worker support and set clear expectations of the value of making use of work/family policies could have lower reports of burnout and more engaged employees.
From an ethical perspective, the fairness doctrine holds that equals should be treated equally and unequal’s unequally. The Google policy allowing for paid leave for those employees who don’t give birth seems directed by the notion of trying to be fair to all.
It has been said that fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. So, it depends on whether you view fairness from the perspective of an employee who just gave birth or their spouse who just gave birth. The question is should they be treated differently in this circumstance than those without birthing considerations?
On the other hand, should all employees be treated the same regardless of birthing situations? One concern with family leave is why not make such distinctions based on other factors such as general health, in fairness to all? If an employee has a serious condition, and sick leave and vacation leave doesn’t cover the amount of time needed to adequately recover (i.e., cancer/radiation/chemotherapy), then why not extend the paid leave days in such a case?
The other side of the issue is where does it stop? Can we, in reality, make choices on leave policy that are fair to all employees? I think not. Maternity leave has become so important because both parents frequently work so that concessions have to be made in those situations.
I have a daughter with a one-year old and I see how hard it is on her without family nearby for support and how it helped so much in the first two months when her husband had maternity leave. It’s not only bonding time with the new baby, but also brings the two parents closer together as they learn to work as a team especially in those precious first two months. In the end, I believe it enhances the likelihood of having a harmonious family life that is best for the baby in the long-run and may even improve employee performance.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 22, 2013
A response to 'Is Whistleblowing an Ethical Practice?' by Ranjana Lal, a student at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
From time to time I receive a blog response that is more in the way of an essay commenting on one of my blogs. Typically, these essays are part of a university assignment to comment on a blog of interest. What follows is the essay by Ranjana Lal, a student at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. I have included my response to Ranjana below. Ranjana first wrote to me and said: “I’m currently doing a Business Ethics paper from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand this semester and one of our assignment requirements is to comment on a Blog on one of the related topics in Business Ethics. Below is my comment on ‘Is Whistle-blowing an ethical action’.”
You ask ‘is whistle-blowing an ethical action’?
Whistle-blowing always involves an actual or at least declared intention to prevent something bad that would otherwise occur. It always involves information that would not ordinarily be revealed.
Looking at the conclusions and certain criteria given by many ethicists, whistle-blowing is an ethical action. According to the standard theory – Michael Davis ‘Some Paradoxes of Whistle-blowing’ (Davis 1996) points that whistle-blowing is morally required when it is required at all; people have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others if they can do so with little costs to themselves. The action is morally justified when it meets the requiring five criteria. In his complicity theory, Davis states that because the whistle-bower is complicit in wrong doing rather than from the ability to prevent harm. There is a moral obligation to help right the situation.
I would also like to draw attention to the Utilitarian theory; the main question with Utilitarian is to which option for action will help produce the greatest amount of happiness and least harm? To support my answer from a general perspective in a case of fraudulent reporting behaviour, the option for a Utilitarian would be, to say nothing in the first place, secondly report the matter to the immediate manager and lastly blow the whistle externally – report outside the organisation.
Looking at these option and analysing the possible outcomes, saying nothing would likely result in the continuing fraudulent behaviour and if the fraud is discovered by any other means, this could cause a damaging effect for the ‘whistle-blower’. Also every employee has an obligation to report any such behaviour to their employer.
The second option – reporting the matter to the immediate manager could result in stopping the fraud, praise for both the ‘whistle-blower’ and the manager. The likely harm would be the loss of the employee who committed the fraud and possibly the ’whistle-blower’ not being trusted by fellow co-workers in the future. Lastly external ‘whistle-blowing’ reporting the fraud outside of the organisation would only result in publicity for the organisation, financial loss for the stakeholders. The only likely positive result from this action would be the ending of the fraudulent behaviour.
The Utilitarian would be morally obliged to the take the second option- report the matter to the immediate manager, as this would likely bring about the most happiness and least harm. Hence in a ‘general’ context and testing the Utilitarian theory, the second option reporting to the immediate manager is the morally correct action to take.
Further in the article you mention a person’s conscience of basic core values such as honesty, trustworthiness and integrity and so did the whistle-blower live up to the ethical standards whilst reporting. (Duska, 1983) in his article ‘Whistle-blowing and Employee Loyalty’ argues that there is no obligation to loyalty because companies or businesses are not kind of things which are proper objects of loyalty.
It is not possible to be loyal to business as they produce a good or service which makes profit. He points out that people bound together in a business are not bound together for mutual fulfilment and support, but to divide labour so the business makes a profit. Loyalty lies in the existence of a relationship in which there is emotion, trust and confidence. Hence if there is no loyalty to a business or company because there is not emotional attachment how can one be disloyal?
I see an employment relationship as being based on the employment agreement signed by both parties unless loyalty is specified as a clause. There is no obligation from either side for it to be more than what the agreement is, so if whistle-blowing is an immoral action it means you are not fulfilling the terms of the contracted agreement you have with your employer. For example, if you are disregarding you duties in order to seek out company wrong doing. The deontologist might say that the rule ‘You should neglect your duties’ cannot be made universal so therefore the action cannot be morally right. A consequentialist still might argue that the harm caused to the company by the employee’s neglect is not as significant as the harm caused by the company’s wrongdoing to the community so therefore the action of whistle-blowing is an ethical action after attempting to right the wrong through internal means.
The significant point is whether the action of whistle-blowing reveals a company’s unlawful practice. If a company has not committed any offence and there is no benefit to either the whistle-blower or the community and the action has potential harm. If this is the case than Davis’ ‘standard’ theory (S4-S5) rule would apply, which is the “whistle-blower has evidence that would convince a reasonable, unbiased observer that his or her views of the threat is correct and has good reasons to believe that revealing the threat will most likely prevent the harm at reasonable cost” (P7).
So, when you ask ‘is whistle-blowing an ethical action’? In conclusion I do believe that whistle-blowing is an ethical action if done in the correct manner and also done for correct reasons because morally it is the correct thing to do, to prevent something bad that would have otherwise occurred. As for incentivizing whistle-blowing, I believe it should be encouraged as long as the whistle-blower is acting with integrity and the intention is to prevent harm.
Article written by Ranjana Lal, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
Comments written by Steven Mintz, Ethics Sage, on May 20, 2013
Technorati Tags: business ethics, deontology and whistleblowing, ethics of whistleblowing, ethics sage, the morality of whistleblowing, utilitarianism and whistleblowing, whistleblowing, whistleblowing and loyalty, workplace ethics
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