Lately I have dedicated considerable time and effort to a study on impartiality and ethical decision making among HR professionals. The data for the study were collected a little while back with one of my then graduate students, Tim Kozitza. I'm currently working on the data analysis with my brother, Professor Carlos de-Mello-e-Souza, from Seattle University. The purpose of the study is to investigate two main questions:
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:
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?
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.