You are on page 1of 6

Ethical Decision Making

May 20, 2002


Nancy Flowers-Mangs

Overview
My experience in the business world has shown a variety of
ethical decision making practices. The beauty industry has a somewhat
skewed view of ethics as it appeals to the vanity and esteem of
consumers around the world. The health care industry must provide
health care to its customers yet maintain the business with the goals of
making a profit. Yale University is known for its research in the fields of
science and medical technology. All these companies practice ethics,
but view ethical behavior in a different way. This paper will explore the
definition and principles of ethics and discuss the impact of ethics on
the decision making process in the work place.

Definition
Pearson Custom Publishing (Pearson, 1998-2002) defines ethics
as the “standards of conduct and moral judgment.” Markula Center for
Applied Ethics (1995-1998) defines ethics as those standards that
compel one to refrain from committing crimes against another person
such as stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. It is also the
standards that encourage honesty, integrity, compassion and loyalty.
Ethics is not a religious principle, nor is it based on “feelings” about a
particular problem. It cannot be defined as a legal practice because
laws are created to protect rights, not manage ethical principles.
While the definition may seem clear, ethics as a practice is
somewhat ambiguous since interpretation plays a big part in how
people perceive right from wrong. The Markala Center for Applied
Ethics (1995-1998) states that in order to understand the meaning of
ethics we must find answers the following questions, “According to

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 1 of 6
what standards are these actions right or wrong? What character traits
(like honesty, compassion, fairness) are necessary to live a truly
human life?”

Defining ethics is relatively easy compared to practicing ethics in


the work place. Since the primary concern of most businesses is the
bottom line, the ethical views may differ based on the type of business.
Ethical views of employees may also differ from the views of the
company. This can cause conflict among workers and management as
companies strive to improve the bottom line. Personal ethics may be
compromised in an effort to keep a job.

In business, what are the ground rules?


Since ethics is not an exact science it is easy believe that if it is
legal it is ethical and therefore acceptable. This is not always the case
and recent examples of Enron and Microsoft prove this point. Enron
has shown us that greed can interfere with good judgment and the
impact of their decisions was grave. Microsoft is another company
whose ethics have been questioned as it strives to maintain its place
as the software giant. Is it unethical for Microsoft to work towards the
demise of its competitor Netscape? Or is this the normal competitive
spirit. Another good example is the beauty industry that built a billion
dollar business convincing consumers that cosmetics and perfumes will
make them perform better, become more powerful and/or more
popular if the products are used. Is this behavior legal, yes. Ethical,
well, that is questionable and based on personal interpretation. So how
can ethical behavior be judged?
Markala Center for Applied Ethics (1999) provides the following
questions to help us more clearly ascertain ethical behavior. “Is there
something wrong personally, interpersonally, or socially? Is there
conflict that could be damaging to people? to animals or the

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 2 of 6
environment? to institutions? to society? Does the issue go deeper
than legal or institutional concerns? What does it do to people as
persons who have dignity, rights, and hopes for a better life together?
“ These questions will help us to get the facts necessary to understand
the problem, but we also need to know the values.
Markula Center for Applied Ethics (1995-1998) suggests asking
these additional questions to further determine values; "Is the solution
to this problem for the common good of the community? Does it
violate any rights? Is it fair and non-discriminatory? Will it benefit the
majority of the people?”
So when a problem occurs that requires a solution, it is
necessary to review these questions and ask ourselves, based on a
desired approach, if the outcome is ethical. This can be a difficult
decision since often there is clearly no right or wrong answer.

How could ethics benefit the decision making process?


Incorporating ethics in the decision making process could making
the process easier or more difficult. Easier by providing an additional
layer that would justify a difficult decision based on whether it was
ethically right or wrong.
Ethics could make the decision making process easier by helping
to eliminate choices that would not benefit all parties involved. For
instance, let’s say there is a company who produces steel wires for
construction projects. They need to build a larger factory in order to
keep up with the demand. They are a fairly small operation, but
complex in that they use dangerous chemicals in the finishing of their
products. They have found a couple of locations which meet their
needs; one in a location that is isolated a far from any residential
areas, the other is located directly on a river that flows into a lake used
for recreational purposes. The first location is considerably cheaper
and would add an additional 30 minutes to the current employees

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 3 of 6
commute. The second is closer and less expensive. In making the
decision on where to build, management must consider the ethical
ramifications to the environment. If they were to build near the river
there would be a chance of chemical run off that would pollute the
river and ultimately the lake. The use of ethics in the decision making
process would make it easier to eliminate this location as an option
and help to justify the additional expense and commute.
Ethics could also make the decision making process harder by
adding another layer of complexity to the problem. Take for instance,
the issue of stem cell research. The research is performed on human
embryos which some say is an unethical practice. Others say that
using stem cells for research will make technological advances in
medicine that cannot be achieved in other ways. These groups are
opposed to the ban on federal funding for research that involved
human embryo research (Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics).
In the meantime, there are many diseases in which the cure points to
more search in the area of stem cells. This research could help to save
lives, but it is being held up due to the ethical beliefs of opposing
parties.

How should ethics be used in business?


Ethical decision making should be a method by which decisions
are made for the good of all people. Ethics should provide a code of
behavior that is used as a base for all decision making. They should
provide specific guidelines that ensure that decisions are always made
in the interest of helping or protecting the rights of people. Many
professional groups had specific practices by which they are expected
to adhere as stated by Larry Colero of the U.B.C. Centre for Applied
Ethics; “professional associations have codes of ethics that prescribe
required behavior within the context of a professional practice such as

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 4 of 6
medicine, law, accounting, or engineering.” These types of
associations lay the ground rules in the decision making process.

What are the ethical implications of the decision?


Ethical implications in the decision making process could have a
positive and negative outcome. I do believe that if a decision is not
made in an ethical manner, the outcome will be negative. Using ethical
decision making will most likely provide a positive outcome. Although it
may not benefit the bottom line, it will surely benefit the community
and the company long term.
The negative implications come from situations where the
decision is made without consideration for ethics. A sales person who
is desperate to make quota for the quarter sells a product to the
customer even though the customer does not need the product at this
time. The customer may feel that the sales person does not have their
best interest in heart and take their business elsewhere. Initially, the
sales person benefited from an unethical decision, but in the long run,
this type of decision making did not pay off.

From a positive perspective, if the sales person had used ethical


decision making, his sales may have increased not only through this
one particular customer, but also from referrals due to the excellent
customer service he/she had provided. Initially, the numbers may not
have been satisfactory, but the long term results might have overcome
the initial down turn.

Conclusion
Utilizing the principles of ethics in the decision making process
will help to ensure that decisions made are fair and respect the rights
of those parties involved. Unfortunately, ethical decision making is only
as morally sound as the person making the decision. If the person

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 5 of 6
making the decision is does not live by an ethical code, the decision
will be swayed in the direction of that belief. Therefore, in order to
make sound ethical decisions, decision makers must constantly
evaluate their own beliefs and strive to live in an ethical manner.

References
Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, (n.d.), On human embryos
and stem cell research: An appeal for legally and ethically responsible
science and public policy. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: May 18,
2002 http://www.stemcellresearch.org/statement/statement.htm
Colero, L., (n.d.) A framework for universal principles of ethics.
Retrieved from the World Wide Web. May 18, 2002
http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/colero.html
Pearson Custom Publishing, (1999-2002) Ethics. Retrieved from the
World Wide Web: May 15, 2002
http://www.pearsoncustom.com/link/humanities/philosophy/crithink/eth
ics.html
Markula Center for Applied Ethics, (1995-1998) A framework for ethical
decision making. Retrieved from the World Wide Web. May 15, 2002.
http://www.scu.edu/SCU/Centers/Ethics/practicing/deci3sion/framework
.html

Written by Nancy Flowers-Mangs – May 2002


Page 6 of 6