Experts share insights on being ethical in business
Experts share insights on being ethical in business
06 JULY 2018 8:11 AM

Business interests often don’t line up with a person’s ethics, so experts speaking at HITEC shared some insights on navigating those conflicts.

HOUSTON—What would you do if a star employee—one so integral to your business’ success that losing him or her would substantially hit your bottom line—was regularly harassing other employees?

That was one of the questions posed to the audience during the ethics session at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, which featured Rosen Hotels & Resorts Director of Finance James Bina and Judy Holcomb, chair of international tourism at Saint Leo University’s hospitality management and sport business department.

Holcomb noted most of the audience opted to fire that hypothetical star employee when giving a binary choice of firing or keeping them, but most would opt for a more nuanced approach if possible to preserve their business interests in addition to trying to protect their other employees.

Bina said sometimes the best way to deal with these situations is to do the legwork on the front end to avoid getting into no-win situations to begin with. He noted his company has regular check-ins and keeps employees’ responsibilities and tasks well-tracked by supervisors and catalogued in “desk books.”

“That has all the deals on what tasks might be and what it takes to accomplish it,” he said.

But Holcomb noted the hypothetical is important to consider because it notes the possibility that sometimes an employee can be valuable in ways that can’t be trained or transferred to others, and in that situation employers must make the tough decision between protecting their other employees from harassment or hurting the business, which ultimately could hurt their employment prospects.

Ultimately, Holcomb said, it could come down to a matter of establishing a strong corporate culture.

“You and other managers create the culture within your organizations,” she said. “So you have to be aware of that when making decisions.”

She said that “ethical challenges aren’t easy” and anyone can point to situations where they logically knew what they believed to be the ethically correct decision to make yet they took a different path. So she said addressing that decision-making process can help lead to more ethical outcomes.

That includes identifying the “conscious and subconscious things affecting us while making intuitive decisions” and how you went about implementing those decisions, Holcomb said, especially in cases you know you wouldn’t have 100% buy-in from all stakeholders. She said the position a person holds is impactful on their ability to make ethical decisions.

Holcomb said it’s a different situation if you’re the owner of a business and decide you have to fire someone versus being that person’s direct supervisor who has to answer to your own supervisors.

“First you have to ask, ‘Who am I going to talk to?’” she said. “It might not be your direct supervisor. You may want to find an ally. If you’re on the executive committee, it may be someone lateral to you to go to and get their support.”

Bina said executives at Rosen try to streamline these difficult decisions by setting up committees, like the company’s hiring committee, so no one person is ultimately responsible for difficult decisions. He said in terms of hiring, the company has strict guidelines it follows based on the company’s “total commitment to honesty and integrity” along with the “security and well-being” of employees that helps executives from deviating from making ethical choices.

“That’s the first thing someone sees in orientation,” he said. “There’s attention paid to the code of conduct as well as the code of ethics.”

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