Criteria for Ethical Decision Making

Most ethical dilemmas involve a conflict between the needs of the part and the whole — the individual versus the organizations or the organization versus society as a whole. For example, should a company install mandatory alcohol and drug testing for employees which might, benefit the organization as a whole but reduce the individual freedom of employees? Or should products that fail to meet tough FDA standards be exported to other countries where government standards are lower benefiting the company but being potentially harmful to world citizens? Sometimes ethical decisions entail a conflict between two groups. For example, should the potential for local health problems resulting from company’s effluents take precedence over the jobs it creates as the town’s leading employer?

Managers faced with these kinds of tough ethical choices often benefit from a normative strategy — one based on norms and values to guide their decision making. Normative ethics use several approaches to describe values for guiding ethical decision making. Four of these that are relevant to managers are the utilitarian approach, individualism approach, moral rights approach and justice approach.

Utilitarian Approach:

The ethical concept that moral behaviors produce is the greatest good for the greatest number.

The utilitarian approach espoused by the nineteenth century, philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill hold that moral behavior produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Under this approach a decision maker is expected to consider the effect of each decision alternative on all parties and select the one that optimizes the satisfaction or the greatest number of people. Because actual computations can be very complex, simplifying them is considered appropriate. For example a simple economics frame of reference could be used by calculating dollar costs and dollar benefits. Also, a decision could be made that considers only the people who are directly affected by the decision, not those who are indirectly affected. The utilitarian ethic is cited as the basis for the recent trend among companies to police employees personal habits such as alcohol and tobacco consumptions on the job, and in some cases after hours as well, because such behavior affects the entire workplace. Similarly many companies argue that monitoring how much the employees spend their time on the Internet is necessary to maintain the company’s ethical climate and workplace productivity. If employees are viewing pornographic sites visiting racist chat rooms, or spending hours shopping or day trading online the entire organization ultimately suffers.

The utilitarian ethic was the basis for the state of Oregon’s decision to extend Medicaid to 400,000 previously ineligible recipients by refusing to pay for high cost high risk procedures such as liver transplants and bone-marrow transplants . Although a few people needing these procedures have died because the state would not pay. Many people have benefited from medical services they would otherwise have had to go without. Critics claim that the Oregon decision does not fully take into account the concept of justice toward the unfortunate victims of life threatening diseases.

Individualism approach:

The individualism approach contends that the act is moral when they promote the Individual’s best long term interest. Individual self direction the amount and external forces that restrict self direction should be severely limited. Individuals calculate the best long term advantage to themselves as a measure of a decision’ s goodness. The action that is intended to produce a greater ratio of good to bad for the individuals compared with other alternative is the right one to perform. In theory, with everyone pursing self directions the greater good is ultimately served because people learn to accommodate each other in their own long term interest.

Source: New Era Management