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Making Ethical Decisions: What Would You Do?

Making Ethical Decisions: What Would You Do?
24 July 2015 John Moore

Most of us like to think we are good managers and good with people, so here is a challenge for you! Have a read of this fictitious case study and decide what ethical decisions you would make.

David Dickens has been acting supervisor of the Accounts Servicing Department of Jewson for the past two months. Jewson is one of the premier department store chains in the region, and the Account Servicing Department is responsible for maintaining, updating and adjusting the credit accounts of Jewson’s 20,000 charge customers. David was moved into this position after the previous first line manager (FLM) left abruptly in anticipation of a re-organisation. David was told to keep the operation running until final decisions about a re-organisation could be made.

There are four account service representatives in the department. All four are women in their mid to late 20’s. They have been in the department for an average of five years. Each representative is responsible for approximately 5,000 accounts. In order to complete their duties, they must often deal with other employees throughout the chain of stores as well as with the customers themselves. Thus, in addition to the skills needed to manage, adjust, and service the accounts, the ‘reps’ must be very polite and tactful when talking with others.

Before being promoted into his current supervisory capacity, David worked as a rep for three years. During that time, he mastered the job and knew that with a little concentration and discipline, it could be both challenging and satisfying. Therefore, he could not quite understand Marina Jackson.

Marina, 27 and single, has been in the department for a little more than two years. During that time, she learned the job well. She can process the paperwork quickly and without error and, indeed, will often finish her work before anyone else. Because Marina commutes to work over a long distance via public transport, she often arrives early. This explains in part why she finishes her work ahead of time: she usually starts working half an hour early.

In spite of a good record, though, Marina’s performance has started to slip recently. In fact, Marina has become a major problem for David since he became acting FLM. As one of her colleagues put it when complaining about Marina the other day, ‘She’s enough to drive you crazy’.

Marina has become very unpredictable and moody. When a customer or colleague irritates her, her first reaction is to give everyone the silent treatment. Since her behaviour is so obvious and affects everyone who works in the same office space with her, the tension level in the office has risen significantly. When dealing with customers or other employees over the phone, she tends to be abrupt and curt to the point of being rude. Or, when she must deal in person with someone, she will often sigh impatiently as they approach her desk or simply continue talking on the phone while they wait. David has started receiving complaints from both customers and colleagues about this. And when she becomes really upset, she loses all control, shouting and sometimes swearing to whomever is nearby.

The problem seems to stem from her boyfriend. David learns from some of her colleagues that she makes personal phone calls to him several times during the day. On a number of different occasions, she has ended the phone conversation by yelling into, then slamming down, the phone. She then will jump up from her desk and leave for a long time and when she returns, she will cry very easily when asked where she has been.

Some of the other employees in the department now ‘walk on tiptoes’ around her, while a few others enjoy fighting with her. Although, things are far from smooth and harmonious in the unit, David knows that something must be done, but is not sure how to proceed.

Ethical Decisions

  1. In your opinion is there a problem and if there is, what do you think it is?
  2. What should David do – how should he handle the problem?

Let us know what ethical decisions you would make by commenting below.

John Moore has over 20 years experience of training and developing Managers, Coaches, Consultants and businesses. As Managing Director of Exponential Training, John researches, speaks, blogs and writes about how to improve performance. He also designs and delivers engaging, fun and interactive learning programmes. John is a Fellow Chartered Manager and has worked with managers and organisations in over 20 different countries.


  1. Robin Johnson 8 years ago

    If the issue is impacting both customers and work colleagues then there is a problem. It is not clear form the case whether Marina’s performance slip involves both the mechanical functions of her role as well as her relationship and approach to customers and colleagues. It appears that out of work stress may be impacting work behaviour.

    The first action is definitely to talk with her in private centred on:-
    Seems to be upset
    Temper/ inappropriate language (swearing)
    Anything David/company could do to help.

    Depending on the track of the discussion maybe suggest a few days leave and if stress seems to be the issue maybe a referral to the company stress procedures.

    Incidentally one of the most challenging issues I faced was with was a subordinate whose wife was terminally ill, but did not wish his colleagues to be aware. The guy wanted to work, but colleagues were complaining about performance shortfall. In this situation I filled in the gaps for the few weeks before regretfully the issue became known to all.

  2. Rob Knowles 5 years ago

    1. There is a problem. The problem is the effect that M’s behaviour is having across a number of parts of the business.
    2. As a a start point speak (in an assertive way, pointing out facts not feelings) to M. try to understand why her behaviour changed. Try to get her to understand the effect of her behaviour on colleagues, customers and the business. Try to work with her – initially…..

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