Categorized | Workplace

The Ethical Employee Quiz

Posted on 29 May 2011

“It can be notoriously difficult to make the right choice in a touchy situation—especially one in the workplace. People have different interpretations of “morals,” and workplace complications may not be black and white. People must often choose among conflicting “goods,” according to Carter McNamara, PhD, author of A Complete Guide to Business Ethics.”

For example, a supervisor knows one of his staff will be laid off. He also knows that the worker plans to make some expensive purchases. The supervisor’s boss, however, asks him not to warn the employee to avoid disruption. McNamara points out that this situation, like most ethical problems in the workplace, requires a choice among conflicting values with equally justifiable alternatives and significant consequences for all parties.

Ethical decisions in the workplace involve relationships among people with different degrees of authority, trust, empathy, risk, and benefit, as Daniel Brass points out in a January 1998 Academy of Management Review article. When you hand your keys to a stranger at valet parking, Brass says, you rely more on an established system than your trust in the valet. When you share confidential information with a co-worker, the level of trust may be a greater factor than the organization’s rules.

Two wrongs don’t make a right—but three just might.

How do you solve ethical problems at work? The quiz below may reveal when you rationalize (for example: “I’ll work better if I take home this proprietary software”), and when you choose the wisest “good.” You’ll also find actual situations combined with a dash of “social network analysis,” as described above by Brass.

Read the following situations; after each scenario, determine what you would do. (Need we tell you? No peeking!) After you’ve determined your responses, compare them to the responses of people who were really in these situations. Are your answers more or less ethical than the actual responses, or equally ethical? (If you’re reading this on company time, get back to work and finish the article later!)


1. The principal’s secretary at a public school noticed that petty cash kept disappearing. She suspected her new assistant but didn’t have proof. She wanted to maintain harmony within the small school while preventing theft.

2. A computer systems designer was promised a $5,000 bonus when she joined a particular company. Her attempts to collect the bonus failed, even after another co-worker received his bonus. She discovered that he got the bonus only after he agreed to return half of it to the manager who had authorized it.

3. A history professor perked up classroom discussions by sharing incidents from his life. The technique worked so well he considered passing off invented stories as actual experience.

4. Library assistants collected fines for overdue books at a large university. One assistant thought that students needed the money more than the library did, and in the spirit of Robin Hood, was tempted not to collect fines at all.

5. A national retail chain required lengthy procedures if a cash drawer did not tally with receipts. On nights her drawer was a bit low, one cashier considered putting in her own money to avoid the paperwork.


1. The secretary rearranged responsibilities so the assistant had no access to cash.

2. The systems designer stopped demanding her bonus. Her co-worker exposed the kickback scheme to top managers when he left a year later. Nothing changed.

3. Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, regularly spiced classroom discussions of the Vietnam War with stories of his own military experiences there. He stopped in June, when the Boston Globe revealed he had never served in Vietnam. Thousands of former admirers are angry.

4. The library assistant waived the fines and was fired for “excessive generosity.”

5. The cashier put in her own money and went home on time with no regrets.

Keeping in mind that this quiz is unscientific, tally your response ratings. If all are “more ethical,” you’re either a saint or fooling yourself. If you rated your responses as more ethical than the historian’s only or less ethical than any of the other responses, get some ethics training now! If your responses fared better than the historian’s and the library assistant’s, and about the same as the other responses, your ability to do the right thing is probably adequate.

You may find that two wrongs don’t make a right—but three just might. See if your employer provides confidential help with ethics. Or ask a librarian or search the Web for professional associations that can provide education.


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Upcoming Bank Exams says:

    Good quiz. I think people should go through it. Thank you for sharing.

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