- Proximity: How much does proximity (how close you are to the person involved in an ethical dilemma) matter in your ultimate decision? Are you more likely to favor a friend than a stranger?
- Impartiality: What variables impact the likelihood that we will make an impartial decision?
As I write the first question, I can already hear my readers' "duh" response. Of course, you'll say, people are likely to favor their friends. Next question please.
Not so fast. First, the sample will include HR professionals only - we plan to eliminate from the sample participants who do not work in the field of HR. Most HR professionals will agree that "fairness" is an important value in the profession - you are expected to treat employees impartially and in accordance to organizational policy. For instance, the SHRM Code of Ethics states that HR professionals should "develop, administer, and advocate policies and procedures that foster fair, consistent, and equitable treatment for all." Second, the sample includes a large number of individuals with managerial responsibilities - and managers are also expected to be fair and equitable in the allocation of resources and application of organizational policies (we will be reviewing the data to see the impact of managerial role). Third, the dilemma proposed in the survey was a professional one. It did not involve outside friends, family, etc. One might expect "fairness" to be a more important motivation in the world of work than in one's social interactions.
The second question, however, is undoubtedly the most interesting one. Clearly, not everyone is likely to favor the friend. We are exploring variables such as personality traits, gender, and managerial status as we review the data.
Before I see the final results, though, I'm spending some time reflecting on the limits of impartiality. Yes, we advocate for it. We insist that we are capable of it. When push comes to shove, however, how impartial are we really? For instance:
- You are a professor. The rules say that students have to submit papers by day x. You know, however, that you could change those rules, and that no one will fault you for doing so as long as you do it for everyone (in other words, if you push a date, you will push it for the entire class). Question is: Who would be most likely to convince you to push down a date?
- You are a manager. All employees must deliver project x by deadline y. The day before deadline, you see one of the employees in trouble. She asks you for help just as you're headed home. Let's assume that you would help any employee under those circumstances. However, for whom would you stay behind the longest? To whom would you demonstrate the best attitude?
- You are a student. The course is over and you're asked to fill out an evaluation. You know the course had some flaws. For the sake of future classes, you want to be honest. How tactful, however, are you likely to be if you like the professor a lot? Might you be harsher under certain circumstances?
In other words: When we think of "impartiality" we often think of big and clear decisions. The true test of impartiality, however, could lie in the little ones. These little decisions, however, might matter. They might make a difference between someone's success or failure.
What do you think? Can you bring examples of moments in which you favor those you love in the little things? What is the impact of your own partiality? What solutions might you offer?