Ethical Dilemma at Workplace – By Chetna From IIM Rohtak

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have right to do and what is right to do” – Potter Stewart


Ethical code at workplace matters inexorably as it occupies significant mindshare of professionals committed to build successful organizations. Way beyond being just a management tool taught in B schools, Business Ethics is a deep notion which needs to be practiced as well as demonstrated day in and out. At times apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives might arise, but one needs to admit it as a part of professional life. Woven around fictional character Atharva, this story is inspired from real life incidents that have significantly added value to my academic and professional learnings.

It was just another working day in the manufacturing plant. Today’s production plan comprised of running one extra production line. It required 5 people to run, 1 skilled operator and 4 packers (unskilled manpower). Atharva gazed the production line with sign of stress on his forehead. The number of manpower present was just fair enough to run the line. With rising pressure on costs, the work pressure on each individual in the hierarchy was snowballing day by day. The new corporate screensaver on desktop said “let’s join hands to implement Low Cost Business Model.” The screensaver had bright colors, and the impression it created was enthralling.

Generally older workmen tend to work in the areas where lesser physical effort is required. If the workmen Union is strong, the bitter reality is that deviating much from the existing practices is difficult. This new production line had tasks involving physical efforts, and hence deployed younger people. Atharva saw one packer not performing well on the line. Atharva cautioned him but it was of no use. He went closer to him and apprehended his high temperature, swollen eyes. By now Atharva had realized that his subordinate was not keeping well. His subordinate asked him permission to leave.

Atharva had confirmed his boss in the morning that they had started the new line and output is going to be good at the end of shift. The expectation of higher output is more in First shift as one has maximum support from the department as well as cross functional teams. Atharva refused his leave and left, but his inner conscience was not supporting his own judgment. After reaching his cabin, Atharva premeditated if he could optimize the manpower, and let his subordinate go without hampering the output. But this appeared unviable. Absence of one person would lead to loss of one shift production on the line. Other option was to turn down conveyor belt speed, and get work done by 4 people instead of 5. But this would again be deceitful from employer’s perspective. Atharva was in dilemma.

Atharva thought for long and got an idea. He went to an older worker and asked him to swap job with this guy, in bad health. The older worker was doing relatively tranquil task of observing the number of rejections. But he refused (Unionized workmen are difficult to convince). He said “sahib hum 10 saal se yahi kaam kar rahe hain, hum kuch aur nahi karenge.” Atharva did not wanted to argue so he left.

He had left the production hall but his inner conscience was undergoing a turmoil so he decided to stay firm. He went to the old worker and said “If you are not swapping the position, I will.” He told the older employee “may be your ego doesn’t allow you to help me in this situation of crisis but I don’t have any such mental block that can inhibit me from doing the packer’s job. I won’t force you, but I just advise you to introspect.”” I will not be your line manager for today, I will do the work, which according to you is mediocre.” The older employee was moved with these words. He went to the new line and started working in place of young worker. Atharva sent that young worker to medical room. He came back in ten minutes after medication and was given a facile task.

Atharva remembered the words of his teacher “In moral dilemmas, the choice is between right and wrong, in ethical dilemma the choice is between two rights.”