Welcome to Ethical Foundations for Public Service!

Ethical Foundations for Public Service
Part 1 : Philosophy and Principles

Carrying Out Ethics

Making the Tough Ethical Decisions

If you talk to most public officials and employees, they want to do the right thing. They are hard working and have the best interest of the organization and public in mind in the decision making process. It is the exceptional incident that, unfortunately, makes the news and creates a negative image for the public.

As supervisors and public officials, you are required to make decisions. This can be especially challenging when competing interests make the decision difficult. A decision that requires you to layoff a good employee may be necessary and in the best interest of the organization and the public because of limited resources. How does one make the tough decision when faced with an ethical dilemma?

lady thinkingA Beginning Point in Decision Making: A Simple Ethical Behavior Test

When faced with ethical dilemmas, consider using the following questions as an initial guide in your decision making process:

  1. Is it legal? Is it moral? Is it safe?
  2. If somebody else did it to you, would you think it was fair?
  3. How would it appear as a headline on the front page of the newspaper?
  4. Would you like your mom or dad to see you do it?
  5. How is it consistent with the organizational values?

If this doesn’t provide an answer, whom can you consult within your organization? Outside your organization?

Incorporate Ethical Conversation into the Culture

One of the most difficult times to address an ethical dilemma is when you’re in the middle of the issue. Whereas, if ethical decision making and dilemmas were incorporated into your manager’s meetings once a month or quarterly, you would have the collective background thinking of your colleagues. This collective thinking will provide you with a foundation for how and why decisions are made. This also establishes a ready network in which to consult.