As the issues faced by HR managers have increased in number and complexity, so have the pressures and challenges of acting ethically. Ethical issues pose fundamental questions about fairness, justice, truthfulness, and social responsibility.
Concerns have been raised about the ethical standards used by managers and employees, particularly those in business organizations. It appears that the concerns are well-founded, if the results of one study of 1,300 employees and managers in multiple industries is an indication. About 48% of those surveyed admit engaging in unethical behavior at work. Some of the most frequently mentioned items were cheating on expense accounts, paying or accepting bribes and kickbacks, forging signatures, and lying about sick leave.
WHAT IS ETHICAL BEHAVIOR? Ethics deals with what “ought” to be done. For the HR manager, there are ethical ways in which the manager ought to act relative to a given human resource issue. However, determining specific actions is not always easy. Ethical issues in management, including HR issues, often have five dimensions:
-Extended consequences: Ethical decisions have consequences beyond the decisions themselves. Closing a plant and moving it to another location to avoid
unionization of a workforce has an impact on the affected workers, their families, the community, and other businesses.
-Multiple alternatives: Various alternatives exist in most decision-making situations, so the issue may involve how far to “bend” rules. For example, deciding how much flexibility to offer employees with family problems, while denying other employees similar flexibility, may require considering various alternatives.
-Mixed outcomes: Decisions with ethical dimensions often involve weighing some beneficial outcomes against some negative ones. For example, preserving the jobs of some workers in a plant might require eliminating the jobs of others. The result would be a mix of negative and positive outcomes for the organization and the affected employees.
-Uncertain consequences: The consequences of decisions with ethical dimensions often are not known. Should employees’ personal lifestyles or family situations eliminate them from promotion even though they clearly are the most qualified candidates?
-Personal effects: Ethical decisions often affect the personal lives of employees, their families, and others. Allowing foreign customers to dictate that they will not have a female or minority sales representative call on them may help with the business relationship short term, but what are the effects on the employees denied career opportunities?
RESPONDING TO ETHICAL SITUATIONS To respond to situations with ethical elements, the following guides are suggested for thought:
-Does the behavior or result achieved comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and government codes?
-Does the behavior or result achieved comply with all organizational standards of ethical behavior?
-Does the behavior or result achieved comply with professional standards of ethical behavior?
What the preceding three points make clear is that just complying with the laws does not guarantee ethical behavior. Laws and regulations cannot cover every situation that HR professionals and employees will face. Instead, people must be guided by values and personal behavior “codes,” but employers have a role to play through HR management. A code of ethics adopted for HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is reproduced in the accompanying HR Perspective.
ETHICAL ISSUES IN HR MANAGEMENT HR professionals regularly are faced with
ethical issues. According to a study by SHRM and the
, a Ethics Resource Center
majority of the HR professionals surveyed indicated that they had seen unethical workplace conduct in the previous year. The most common unethical incidents by employees were lying to supervisors, employee drug or alcohol abuse, and falsification of records. Almost half of the HR professionals also indicated that their organization had pressured them to compromise their own ethical standards in order to meet financial, scheduling, or other operational goals.
With HR management in an international environment, other ethical pressures arise. Such practices as gift giving and hiring vary in other countries, and some of those practices would not be accepted as ethical in the
. Consequently, all managers, including HR managers, must deal with ethical issues and be sensitive to how they interplay with HR activities. One way to address ethical issues in organizations is to conduct training of executives, managers, and employees. Training of managers and employees in ethics compliance has been found to reduce the incidence of ethical problems. The complete study of ethics is philosophical, complex, and beyond the scope of this book. The intent here is to highlight ethical aspects of HR management. Various ethical issues in HR management are highlighted throughout the text as well. United States