Taking the High Road
Webb, Betsy J.
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Imagine this scenario: Sally is an accounting manager in the microbiology department on campus. Her boss, the department head, tells her that he was just informed that a large federal grant won’t be re-funded and several employee positions will be terminated as a result. He asks Sally to keep the information confidential because important federal documents have yet to be filed. Sally agrees to do so. Two days later, a coworker asks Sally if she knows anything about the rumor regarding the grant status and possible layoffs. When Sally hesitates, the coworker says, “Look, this is serious. People could lose their jobs. Do I need to cut back on spending? Do you know anything?” What should Sally do? Should she be honest? She does know something, and she feels a sense of loyalty to her coworkers. Or should she say nothing? She does have a duty to maintain confidentiality, and she agreed to do so. This situation, adapted from Joseph Badaracco’s 1997 book Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right, illustrates perfectly the not-so black- and-white area of ethics. With ethics, you often have to choose not between right and wrong, but between right and right (or right and good). And what is right and what is good are not always the same thing.
Webb, Betsy J. 2013-14. "Taking the High Road". The Higher Education Workplace, Winter 2013-14, Volume 5, No. 3