Ethical Bussiness


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The Opening Decision Point asked you to consider the implications of using smartphones in business contexts. It might not have occurred to you previously that smartphones could be a source of ethical problems in the workplace because most people see a BlackBerry or iPhone simply as a source of productivity, allowing them to carry a powerful computer combined with a communications device in their pocket or handbag. The convenience of being able to access information, as well as to stay in touch with key clients and co-workers just about anywhere, typically is seen as a benefit rather than a problem. But, as the earlier box illustrated, smartphones—like many new technologies—also raise ethical questions.

Clearly, the Opening Decision Point involved miscommunication from the start. Using the ethical decision-making process, we are confronted with a scenario in which the stakeholders involved perceived the situation from entirely different perspectives. While you were entirely engaged in the meeting and working strenuously to produce the most effective result, your behavior left many involved with the perception that you were instead “checked out” and fiddling with your phone! Certainly, if you have known that was the impression you were likely to create, you would never have made the same decision. Instead, you would have … well? What would you have done?

That is the benefit of considering these scenarios at the outset. Not everyone will perceive your behavior from the same vantage point, nor with the same experiential background. You might be the type of person to take notes on your smartphone, while that option might never enter into someone else’s mind. By understanding that perspective, you might have started the meeting by letting everyone know that you plan to record some bullet points directly into your phone so that you can upload them electronically the moment you return to your office. In that way, you will be best able to share them with the team in the most efficient manner immediately following the meeting. Everyone would have nodded and appreciated your thoughtfulness. To the contrary, you are left needing to explain the fiasco to your boss.

We should realize, of course, that sometimes it is not at all a matter of misunderstanding; some people actually may be playing games on their phones during meetings, texting with friends, or checking in on Facebook. To the extent that this activity means that they are paying less attention to what others in the meeting are saying, such activities are—at the very least—disrespectful. However, consider far worse implications for the workplace. A one-time offense arguably could be dismissed as simply rude; but ongoing behavior could demonstrate a pattern of rudeness, which implies a lack of overall respect for stakeholders. Respect for the personal dignity of others is a key element of ethical decision making.

Though there would be significant exceptions, of course, some disagreements over the use of smartphones in the workplace might also be generational. Some younger workers who have grown up with mobile phones and who are used to text messaging to keep in near constant contact with friends might see texting during a meeting as normal, and as implying no disrespect at all. Moreover, some of these workers might not even wear a watch anymore and often use their phone as their only method by which to check the time, so checking their phone is no more Page 340intrusive to them as someone else glancing at their wrist. To the contrary, some (be wary of generalizations here, again) older workers, even many of those who are comfortable using a smartphone, may see such devices more strictly in terms of their usefulness for a narrow range of essential business operations. To these workers, use of a smartphone during a meeting—even to check business-related e-mail—may cross a boundary of propriety.

Please read the “Be Smart about Smartphones” case located on page 339-340 of the course textbook. After reading, please answer the questions listed below. You may type your responses or upload a word file. There is no word minimum, but please fully develop your answers. How might you respond if you observed a colleague texting in the middle of a meeting? Would it be different if the meeting involved just the two of you or other people? What would you do if you received a text from a colleague in the middle of a meeting (and the colleague is in the same meeting)?