Ethical training programs equip employees with strong reasoning abilities and intellectual skills that can help them comprehend and find more effective solutions to complex ethical challenges. Ferrell et al. (2013) identify six stages of moral development based on Kohlberg’s model of philosophy. They are: (a) punishment and obedience, (b) purpose and exchange, (c) interpersonal expectations, relationships and conformity, (d) social system and conscience maintenance, (e) prior rights, social contract or utility, and (f) universal ethical principles. Kohlberg’s studies also suggest that individuals continue to evolve and reshape their morals and ethical behavior based on training, education and experiences (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2013). For example, an ethical dilemma in one case, was created by an employee that works in customer service. In this situation, the employee received a gift from a customer as a small token of their appreciation. However, accepting gifts from clients goes against the company’s code of conduct policies. According to Ferrell et al., experts may identify this dilemma as stage one in Kohlberg’s cognitive moral development model. Identifying this stage, can help a supervisor address the nature of his moral dilemma to help find the best solution. In this stage of development individuals respond to obedience and punishment, where rules dictate the terms of right and wrong, and good and bad conduct, that help determine outcomes. Because the organization has clearly defined policies forbidding salespeople from accepting gifts from consumers and identifies what is acceptable business behavior, a supervisor may send the following email in response to the situation:
By composing this letter, the supervisor is immediately taking responsibility of the seriousness of the matter and addresses the situation with recommendations to the employee for a swift resolution. The leader analyzes the issue, acknowledges the situation intensity, and identifies the matter as unethical behavior. By addressing these components, it is easier to decide on the appropriate action required to reach a mutually beneficial and ethical solution. These actions portray a skilled leader whose direct approach is sharp and swift while remaining sensitive to a valued employee’s unmitigated circumstances. There is nothing wrong with employees or clients showing appreciation for outstanding performances. However, this situation dictates that employees and clients follow the parameters of company policies to avoid situations where a staff member may lose their job by inadvertently participating in ethical misconduct by innocently receiving a reward. Boatright (2009) reminds us that justice requires that everyone has the right of equal opportunity to succeed in life (Boatright, 2009). However, receiving favors and rewards from certain clients is not fair to other employees who work just as hard and are not acknowledged for their excellent performances. Policies can change over time, however in order to do so, it must be done on a corporate wide level and implemented into the company’s culture and code of ethics throughout the organization so that employees have clearly defined parameters of what is right and wrong behavior. In conclusion, arming employees with strong reasoning abilities and intellectual skills can help them better comprehend ethical challenges and find more effective solutions to complex issues that are in alignment with corporate procedures and policies.
Boatright, J. (2009). Ethics and the Conduct of Business (Sixth ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell. (2013). Business ethics and social responsibility (9th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.