All about ethical dilemmas – what they are and how to avoid them

Tanya Hunter
August 14, 2019
Tanya Hunter

Have you ever called in sick to stay home and binge watch your favourite series??

Have you ever heard a colleague address another colleague inappropriately and not commented?

Have you ever “borrowed” supplies from the stationary cupboard and not gotten around to returning them?

Have you ever been asked by your organisation to act unethically to maximise business profits?

We all make decisions that require us to choose between competing values and demands. In making choices, we generally assume that people act in keeping with accepted cultural standards and norms. But sometimes the values or norms within an organisation may conflict with personal values, or a toxic workplace may violate our own personal standards.

Unethical behaviour may also be illegal — discrimination, bullying, harassment, fraud. And it can be costly – especially when lapses in ethical behaviour lead to Royal Commissions, dismissals, fines and reputational damage. As an example, surveys conducted earlier this year revealed, unsurprisingly, that many Australians had lost trust in banking institutions.[1]

Ethical dilemmas come in many sizes, and small ethical lapses can lead to big issues. We don’t have to go far to think of some recent serious examples:

  • In the midst of the banking royal commission, minutes of a meeting revealed that NAB chairman Ken Henry told consultants he “was confident” the bank was selling products that would lead to customers needing to be “remediated” in the future.[2]
  • The ALP and unions continue to debate how to address the bad behaviour and recent conviction of CFMEU construction division secretary John Setka regarding his harassing conduct towards his wife, particularly in light of remarks that allegedly denigrated anti-family violence campaigner Rosie Batty. The ensuing controversy has split leadership within the union movement, as both leaders and members reflect upon the standard of conduct expected by leaders on a personal and professional level.[3]
  • Recent surveys of air traffic controllers indicated that tolerance and ineffectual responses to complaints of sexual harassment, racist and sexist remarks, and inappropriate behaviour had led to a culture of discrimination and bullying that compromised safety for workers and, potentially, the travelling public.[4]

How to avoid ethical dilemmas

When people feel valued and respected in the workplace, they are more likely to respond in keeping with the organisational values and ethics.

To this end, it is important to set, explain and reinforce acceptable behaviour standards through-out your organisation – including (and especially) at the top.

There are a number of steps that you can take to ensure your organisation is supporting ethical behaviour:

  • Create a culture of respect and accountability.
  • Role model the standards
  • Risk manage temptation
  • Have clear codes of conduct and procedures for addressing misconduct (and follow them)
  • Implement a robust whistle-blower system and protect whistle blowers, so that serious ethical lapses can be brought to light.

Practical strategies for your organisation

If you would like to learn more about practical strategies to ensure your organisation is supporting ethical behaviour, then register now for our lunchtime webinar on Thursday 22 August on this topic, presented by Worklogic Associate Director Kairen Harris and drawing on her wealth of expertise in this area.

About Tanya Hunter

Tanya Hunter brings considerable litigation and policy experience to her role as a workplace investigator and consultant. She has worked with state and local government, not-for-profits and private firms in the USA and Australia.  Tanya brings a balanced, impartial approach to the entire process from preliminary analysis of complaints to conducting investigations, creating productive policy guidance and solutions and implementing change projects.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work. Please contact Tanya if your organisation needs assistance, call (03) 9981 6500 or come along to our training!


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Integrity Line

Integrity Line is an independent whistleblower service for complaints about inappropriate conduct at work, provided by Worklogic. Click here to visit the Integrity Line website.