Category Archives: Ethics & Ethical Behavior

Myths of Aging

Granny and the Geezer:

How myths, stereotypes and prejudice fuel ageism–the Golden Years through a glass darkly.

The Golden years are here at last.
I cannot see, I cannot pee.
I cannot chew, I cannot screw.
My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks.
No sense of smell, I look like hell.
The Golden years have come at last.
The Golden years can kiss my ass.
(Principato, 2009)

A “mythos” to the ancient Greeks, was “speech” or “discourse,” but over time the word evolved into meaning “fable” or “legend.”  As a story of vague or forgotten origin, often religious or supernatural in nature, a myth is often used to “explain or rationalize one or more aspects of the world or a society” (Doyle, 1997).  Typically, myths are actually believed to be true or basically so by those people or societies that used or originated them.

By attempting to explain or rationalize some aspect of human existence or institutions, myths served purposes similar to science, religion and history.  To understand a people, a culture, one must attempt to know and understand the myths of that culture.  By acquiring that understanding, we not only better understand the present, but we can use that understanding to move in the direction of a better future.

When a myth is repeated and “passed along” throughout the various communication channels used by a society, e.g. news media, internet, blogs, periodicals, it is well on its way to becoming a stereotype–a commonly held, often standardized and simplified concept that has been invested–or charged–with special meaning (Merriam-Webster, 2009).  A stereotype is often used in a prejudicial way, particularly when it involves beliefs directed at a person or category of people involving such characteristics as gender, disability, sexual orientation or age.

While a prejudice can be positive or negative, most age-related prejudices are negative and reflect a number of emotions and attitudes, including: fear, antipathy, envy, jealousy and transferred anger by younger members of society. Although a stereotype could be true and objective, when social scientists use the term, they are generally referring to connotations that are both negative and inaccurate. (Haslam, 2004).   So, as Tornstam points out “when we find that almost 90 percent of Swedes falsely believe that one in two retirement pensioners suffer from loneliness, we can safely call this belief or image a stereotype.” (Tornstam, 2007, p. 37)

Aging and the aged have long been the subjects of–and many might say, targets of–myth-makers or myth-conveyers in many societies.  A recent Google search on the topic “myth” + “aging,” almost instantly generated 2,250,000 “hits.”  If a myth serves to explain or rationalize attitudes and aspects of a society, then a review of common myths about aging offers a sad commentary on our contemporary society.  Of greater concern is the extent to which misleading myths help perpetuate fallacious stereotypes that are used to make, shape, or alter, public policies and benefits affecting “senior citizens”–fostering ageism.

More than half the people who ever lived to be 65 are alive today, according to Jeanne Sather, who writes on Healthline that myths on aging should themselves be retired.  “That alone suggests that myths about aging based on past generations may not hold true for this one.” (Sather, 2008)  Wishing a myth away is not supported by research.

“Ageism can be seen…in making scapegoats of older men and women and in stereotyping them. It is seen in the deferral or denial of the realities of aging. Our language is replete with negative references, such as “dirty old man” and “greedy geezer,” that would never be acceptable if applied to any other group…Graphic pictorial images that denigrate old age often appear in our media.” (Bernstein et al., 2006)

When we contrast common myths held by our society about aging with scientific fact, we can understand how Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn can reach the conclusion “that our society is in persistent denial of some important truths about aging. Our perceptions about the elderly fail to keep pace with the dramatic changes in their actual status. We view the aged as sick, demented, frail, weak, disabled, powerless, sexless, passive, alone, unhappy, and unable to learn—in short, a rapidly growing mass of irreversibly ill, irretrievable older Americans. To sum up, the elderly are depicted as a figurative ball and chain holding back an otherwise spry collective society.”  (Rowe & Kahn, 2009).  This summary, by the authors, reflected over ten years of research by the MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America.

“WHERE is my SUNDAY  paper?!” The little old lady calling the newspaper office, loudly demanded to know where her Sunday edition was. “Madam”, said the newspaper  employee, “today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on SUNDAY“. There  was quite a long pause on the other end of the phone, followed by a ray of recognition as the little old lady was heard to mutter, “Well, shit… that’s why no one was at church today.” (Principato, 2009)

The MacArthur Foundation study identified many age-related myths in our society, including six that were “frequently heard,” including:

myth #1: To be old is to be sick.
myth #2: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
myth #3: The horse is out of the barn.
myth #4: The secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely.
myth #5: The lights may be on, but the voltage is low.
myth #6: The elderly don’t pull their own weight.  (Rowe & Kahn, 2009)

“When people think of growing older, they often have images of deprivation, poverty, poor health, loneliness and loss of mental capacity,” Dr. DeLee Lantz points out in the introduction to a National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health questionnaire (Lantz, 2009).  Are views held by many likely to be accurate?  How true are stereotypes?  Are many views about aging and the aged actually myths that are accepted because of repetition?

An objective comparison of frequently held myths about aging reveals a significant gap between the myth and scientific fact.  While most of these myths cannot be sustained when compared with scientific findings, the myths persist.

A better understanding of myths related to aging and the degree of their truthfulness is gained by organizing them into three overall categories, including those related to: attention, memory and perception.  It should be remembered that these selections represent a very small fraction of age-related myths and stereotypes.

Categories

 

Myths/Stereotypes

 

Fact(s)

 

Attention-related “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

 

Limited data are available on attentional deficits related to aging.  Some cognitive slowing may occur, perhaps due to neural connection loss or loss of information during processing (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2006) However, people at any age can acquire new skills and information.
Memory-related

 

“When you age, you lose your memory.” “Think aging is all about losing your memory and becoming hard of hearing? Think again. Many people sail through the aging process without walkers or pacemakers. In fact, researchers now believe it’s those age-related diseases—diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s—that leave us frail or disabled, rather than the normal aging of our bodies.” (Kotz, February 20, 2009)

 

Older people have more mental problems, e.g. learning, remembering or concentrating. Nearly five percent of the general population have problems with learning, remembering or concentrating.  Of those from 65-74 (10.8%), 75-84 (6.3%), and 85 and older (27.7%) have such problems or issues (Gist & Hetzel, 2004, p. 11).  Only the very elderly have significantly greater issues with learning, remembering or concentrating than the general public.
Perception-related

 

Older people are more subject to variations in heat or cold.

Extremes of heat or cold are more threatening for older people.

True, generally, the body’s thermostat is less efficient as we get older.

 

 

 

 

 

  Most older people are depressed.

 

Fact, most older people, according to the National Institute on Aging, are not depressed.  When it does occur, it can be treated.
  Most older people are deaf or having trouble with their vision. Over one-third of those over 85 have sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness or hearing impairment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  (Gist & Hetzel, 2004, p. 11).  However, only 8.7 percent of those 65-74 and 16.9 percent of those 75 to 84 have such disabilities.  The “myth” has broader factual support for the very elderly.

 

The negative effects of ageism on the elderly reach much further than depression, they are thought to reduce life span, as well.  For example, in its impressive “Ageism in America” report, the International Longevity Center notes that “older people with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than did those with negative images of growing older.” (Bernstein et al., 2006, p. 61).

More significant overall is the impact on public policy of myth and stereotypes about the elderly.  Too often it is the myths, not the facts, that become the foundation for public policy formulation, a process that may well be currently underway in Washington with the Medicare system being revised in ways that can only result in decreased resources and access for millions of American seniors.

Stereotypes persist and resist efforts to combat them with facts, as Tornstam reports in a Swedish study conducted over 23 years.  “Little seems to have changed for the better,” he concluded.  (Tornstam, 2007, p. 1)  However, negative characterizations can be “reversed to ‘positive’ stereotypes at the same time as negative stereotypes of psychological conditions remain the same.” (p. 23)  He outlines a new stereotype in Sweden of wealthy, fit and spoiled “pensioners,” who are being characterized as being greedy for staying in their own homes too long; thus, denying the scarce (in Sweden) private housing to younger people.

Sociologists, gerontologists and other enlightened leaders in society are attempting a more pro-active strategy of introducing new metaphors.

Often, field of interest pertaining to the aged and aging can be in conflict.  Even while public policy makers are busy creating legislation that has the effect of rationing care for America’s eldery, the scientific community is generally seen as promoting the well being of our aging populations.  One positive step is to address the demeaning myth and misleading stereotype with new metaphors.  Scientists and other enlightened professionals are taking a leading role in creating and introducing new metaphors intended to “cast a motivating optimistic aura about aging.”  (Birren, 2002).  Terms like “successful aging,” “productive aging,” and “vital aging” “reflect a rising interest on the part of the research community to attract public interest to areas of research thought to be useful in an aging population.” (Birren, 2002)

References

Associated Press. (2004, September 7). Ageism in America [As boomers age, bias against the elderly becomes hot topic] (Health/Aging). Retrieved from MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5868712/

Bernstein, C., Dennis, E. E., Grossman, L. K., Levy, B. R., McCann, L. A., Rix, S. et al. (Authors). (2006). Ageism in america, Anti-Ageism taskforce (International Longevity Center, p. 121).

Birren, J. (2002). Gerontology. In Encyclopedia of public health (Gerontology, the study of aging). Retrieved from encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404000376.html

Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2006). Adult development and aging, fifth edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning.

Doyle, B. (1997, April 17). Mythology. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Mythica™: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mythology.html

Gist, Yvonne J.; Hetzel, Lisa I. (U S. Census Bureau). (2004). We the people: Aging in the united states (P. 11) (This report provides a portrait of the social and economic characteristics of the population aged 65 and over in the united states at the national level.1 it is part of the census 2000  special reports series that presents several demographic, social, and economic  characteristics collected from census 2000.). Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/censr-19.pdf

Haslam, A. A. (2004). Stereotypes. In A. Kuper & J. Kuper (Eds.), The social science encyclopeadia (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Kotz, D. (February 20, 2009). 5 Common Myths About Aging: If you age well, you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming frail and senile [Best Health: Boomer Health]. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/baby-boomer-health/2009/02/20/5-common-myths-about-aging.html

Lantz, D. (2009, December 1). Common myths of aging: What’s your aging iQ? [Questionairre to help you test your knowledge of the facts about aging.]. Retrieved from Integrated Psychology Associates: http://www.ipasite.com/MythsofAging.html

Merriam-Webster. (2009). Definition of myth from the merriam-Webster online dictionary [Definition of myth from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary with audio pronunciations, thesaurus, Word of the Day, and word games.]. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Myth

Merriam-Webster. (2009). Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary [Definition of stereotype from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary with audio pronunciations, thesaurus, Word of the Day, and word games.]. Retrieved from Marriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stereotype

Principato, M. (2009, December 4). Over the hill, getting old, senior citizen humor – old age jokes cartoons and funny photos. Retrieved from pmcaregivers.com: http://www.pmcaregivers.com/Humor.htm

Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (2009). Breaking down the myths of aging : Successful aging [The topic of aging is durably encapsulated in a layer of myths in our society. And, like most myths, the ones about aging include a confusing blend of truth and fancy. We have compressed six of the most familiar of the aging myths into single-sentence”]. Retrieved  from eNotalone: You are not alone. Articles and forums about relationships and personal growth: http://www.enotalone.com/article/4586.html

Sather, J. (2008, January 28). Retire these 10 myths of aging. Retrieved from Healthline (licensed from StayWell): http://www.healthline.com/sw/wl-retire-these-10-myths-of-aging

Tornstam, L. (2007). Stereotypes of old people persist : A Swedish “Facts on aging quiz” in a 23-year comparative perspective. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life (Linköping University Electronic Press), 2(1), 33-59. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3384/ijal.1652-8670.072133

 

Perspectives on Ethics: When I am vulnerable, can I trust you?

Is it ethical can often be determined by asking: when I am vulnerable, can I trust you?

Perspectives on Ethics

Ethics and Social Theory

Hosmer (1995) traces the fundamentals of ethics to a variety of social theories that deal with an individual’s need to feel secure – to be comfortable in approaching interactions with others, particularly dependent interactions, and trust in a favorable outcome. When people trust, they willingly increase their vulnerability to the actions of others whose behavior is beyond their control. When people trust, they consciously regulate their dependence on someone else in various ways depending on the person, the task, and the situation. In other words, when we trust we except our vulnerability and dependence on the actions of others because a greater good is expected to be attained.

The act of trusting includes the expectation that the person organization on whom we are depending will perform an action or provide a service in a way that is beneficial to us and not detrimental. These expectations explain why we forgo or delay taking defensive actions. Hosmer (1995) explains trust based on four moral values, including:

  • integrity (our assessment of the person organization’s honesty and truthfulness);
  • competence (the collective evaluation and assessment of interpersonal skills and technical knowledge needed to successfully perform the function we are seeking);
  • consistency (predictability and good judgment); and,
  • reliability (their willingness to protect and support our interests, to do so willingly, and to freely share ideas and information).
Ethics

The process of elaborating upon and acting according to our value structure, i.e., ethics, represents values in practice, as well as the assessment and critique of values. When values, responsibilities, or rights, are in conflict, an ethical dilemma can present itself (Mitzen, 1998).

Ethics is a process that includes analyzing and assessing those components used to define and justify morality in its various forms, e.g., logic, values, beliefs, and principles (Cooper, 2006). Ethics considers the articulated or mandated moral code and examines it to better determine its meaning and purpose. Ethics attempts to explain and assess moral conduct through systematic reflection and reasoning (Cooper, 2006). Descriptive ethics attempts to identify and explain the underlying assumptions and connections to conduct. Normative ethics articulates supportable cases and arguments for particular conduct in a specific situation (Cooper, 2006).

Ethics has two essential orientations: deontological (duty to uphold ethical principles without regard for the consequences of one’s actions); and, teleological (concern for the consequences or outcome of one’s conduct). As Cooper (2006) points out, ethics should involve a more systematic consideration of the values and principles that effect the choices we make, their consistency with our duties, and the incident consequences toward which they lead.

Ethical Dilemma

A dilemma (from Greek, ambiguous situation), apparently forces us to choose between two, often contradictory, alternatives. I say “apparently,” since a reasoned, deliberate and orderly assessment of the issue can often produce different alternatives, much better suited for solutions or resolution. As an aside, this form of false or fallacious reasoning – is known as false dilemma (or false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, or black-or-white fallacy).

Meneghetti and Seel (2001) emphasize the importance for NPO executives to be able to deal with real-life ethical dilemmas that are both rich and context and consequence. An ethical dilemma, they explain, typically includes five fundamental characteristics:
• it is hard to name precisely;
• it is embedded within a specific individual or organizational context;
• it may not even be obvious;
• the claims of multiple stakeholders are involved and should be addressed; and,
• that involves a situation where the manager or leader wants or intends to do the right thing, but may not know what the proper course of action may be or how to accomplish it (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001).

The authors outline a four-step ethical decision-making model in which: the primary stakeholders are identified; the problem is addressed from the point of view of each of the identified stakeholders (including the key ethical values being violated); actions determined that should be taken given each stakeholders concerns; and, a decision finalized once the positive and negative consequences of each action are better known. The objective, they explain, is to choose the option that, on balance, minimizes harm, reduces negative consequences, and produces the greatest balance of good in the long term (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001).

In my view, both models could be strengthened by incorporating their relevant steps into a rational model that suggests a more nuanced process. The following model represents an ethical decision-making process incorporating the views of both Cooper and Meneghetti and Seel (2001).

Ethical behavior

Typically, we can identify three major areas where ethical problems can arise, according to Mitzen (1998), including: business practices; employee relations; and, interactions and relations within the larger community or external operating environment. Ethical behavior toward its own staff and volunteers should be a foundation and a given for any nonprofit organization. This includes meaningful communication, and a supportive environment where even whistle blowing, with its inherent potential for divisiveness and conflict, is seen as an expression of several fundamental core values, e.g., responsibility to the publics being served. Organizational core values should be clearly articulated, and clear policies developed as to how they are operationalized.

Nonprofit organizations should have “organizational ethics mechanisms,” that identify how the organization educates its people regarding ethics related issues and how it integrates ethics into its operations and organizational structure (Mitzen, 1998).

Ethical decision making model

Cooper (2007, p. 31) introduces his readers to a five-step ethical decision-making model, the objective of which is to challenge us to think about what is needed to move from an ethical problem facing us, to a reasoned, orderly, sequential course of assessment and analysis intended to resolve or solve the challenging issue. His model represents a framework through and by which a determination can be reached and a rational, fact-based decision achieved for the most promising course of action. The author correctly points out that no on model can provide the single best possible or “correct” solution. It can however, provide a template through and by which the problem is assessed, evaluated, and converted into an opportunity to creatively designed “the best solutions for a given individual in a specific situation within the uncertainties and time limits of real administrative life” (Cooper, 2007, p. 30).

Rather than accept Cooper’s ethical decision-making model as the definitive illustration for the steps in ethical decision-making process, we should remember there are a wide variety of potential models suggested proposed for decision-making, in general. Depending on the situation, those faced with an ethical issue or dilemma might well consider using Cooper’s model and others as guides that can be adapted to the situation, producing a more specific and situationally focused ethical decision-making model.

As McDermott (2011) points out, there are a number of decision-making models from which to choose. The manager even has to make a decision as to the one best suited for the situation, e.g., rational models, intuitive models, rationalist-iterative models, as well as models that have been suggested in a variety of “steps.” Cooper’s model most closely resembles the six-step, rational decision-making model that includes the following phases: define the situation and the desired outcome; research and identify options; compare and contrast each alternative and its consequences; make a decision or choose an alternative; design and implement an action plan; and evaluate results (McDermott, 2011).

Figure 1 Ethical Decision-making process modelEthical Decision Making Process

Role

The term “role” has its origins in medieval Latin and the word ro(tu)lus, a roll of parchment, that in turn was derived from earlier Latin rotulus, a small wheel. In the Middle Ages the part or character played by an actor in a dramatic performance was written out on a rolled up parchment or paper. The part soon became associated with the means used to describe and explain what the character did in the performance–a role. Keeping the etymology of the term in mind helps us better understand the meaning and implications of the term as it is used today.
Luthans (1995) explains that a norm – the typically unwritten but generally understood rules of a group, culture, or society for behaviors that are considered not only acceptable, but expected – represents the “oughts” of behavior. Collections of norms represent prescriptions for acceptable behaviors expected by, and sometimes determined by, the group.

A role consists of a defined set and pattern of norms associated with a position (defined or undefined but “understood” by the group), that is filled or acted out by an individual. A role can perhaps best “be defined as a position that has expectations evolving from established norms” (Luthans, 1995, p. 380).

Roles in Management

A role is an organized set of behaviors identified with a position, Mintzberg (1975) explained. He noted that formal authority is the basis for three interpersonal roles, leading to three informational roles. Together, the interpersonal and informational roles provide the tools to play four decisional roles.

Interpersonal relationship roles, include: figurehead role (ceremonial duties); leader role (responsibility for the work of the people in the unit–hiring/firing, motivation, encouragement); and, the liaison role (contacts outside the immediate work unit).
Informational roles, include: monitor and disseminator (collecting/disseminating soft information for his unit/organization); and spokesman (collecting, positioning, and sharing information with outsiders.

Decisional roles include: entrepreneur (identify new ideas and pursuing opportunities that advance the organizational unit’s objectives); disturbance handler (responding to changes and pressures affecting performance of the unit organization); resource allocator (decisions relating to allocations of resources and the empowerment of subordinates decisions and program contributions).

Collectively, Mintzberg (1978) suggests the managerial role represents a gestalt – an integrated whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. The managers performance depends directly on the extent to which he or she understands and effectively response to the demands and dilemmas of the position. Although often tempted by the short-term benefits of “busy work”, managers should resist the pressures of superficiality by giving serious attention to those issues that require it by keeping the broad picture in mind and by using a variety of analytical inputs” (Mintzberg, 1978, p. 60).

Values

The term we use to describe the worth of an object or concept – its monetary status, desirability, usefulness, importance to the possessor, utility, or merit – is “value.” The term can be traced back to its Latin roots of “valere,” to be strong, to be of value. It can even be traced back to the Indo-European language, from which so many of our present day languages originate, where it meant “to be strong,” “to rule,” “force,” or “power” (Morris, 1981, p. 1415).

Values typically refers to those “strong and enduring beliefs that motivate and define behavior. Values inform the choices we make. They are a statement of what is ‘good’ for individuals and for society” (Mitzen, 1998, p. 103). Values define those things we believe in, and what we consider important in our life and work.

Meneghetti and Seel ( 2001) point out, values represent strongly held attitudes and beliefs regarding what is desirable. However, not all values necessarily have an ethical component, e.g., power per se is neither good nor bad. Those values not having broad societal implications and that are typically held private are considered morals. These attitudes and beliefs held by individuals regarding what is worthwhile or good, are derived from and influenced by family, culture, society, and religion. Typically, public values are considered ethical values, more universally accepted beliefs about what is right or wrong.

Values and Roles

Each role “comes equipped” witha set of values attached that reflect guidelines to behaviors expected for those “playing” that part, e.g. leader value of “cheerleader” (motivator).

Discriminatory behavior

Discrimination includes treating or considering, or making distinctions regarding a person or some other entity based on the group, class, or category to which that person or entity belongs, rather than on individual merits (USLegal, 2011). Trevino and Nelson (2007) explain that discrimination can occur in cases where considerations other than qualifications affect how an employee or associate is treated. For example, the committee identified a minority member to survey a minority population on an issue that should have had nothing to do with one’s identification with or membership of a group other than that of “employee.”

Discrimination represents an important ethical issue and problem in the workplace due to its corrosive effect on perceptions of fairness. When the workplace is not fair, ultimately our entire legal system promising justice and protection of individual rights is in jeopardy.

Many case studies reviewed by students outline possible cases of de facto discrimination that could rapidly devolve into the condition known as a “hostile work environment.” Further, the conditions as outlined in some case studies, if valid (not simply perceived) could meet the requirements for an official investigation, followed by official action.

Values conflicts and ethical dilemmas

Values conflicts presented as ethical dilemmas will certainly face all of us as managers from time to time, and there may be no completely satisfactory resolution. This eventuality must not be used to rationalize their moral or unethical behavior.
Codes of ethics, although helpful, cannot be depended on to solve all values conflicts. In fact, some may use them to appear to “stay within the law” while actually infringing on truly ethical conduct.

Unethical actions can really be hidden and self enforcement helps insulate the manager and the organization from external scrutiny, or enforcement. Finally, as leaders and managers of our respective organizations, we have a personal and professional interest in being alert to potential ethical dilemmas in situations, and to employ an orderly ethical decision-making process to seek effective resolution.

Morals

Morals or morality, originating from the Latin word for “custom,” typically refer to those judgments and characteristics of our actions that can be defined according to our core values as good” or “bad/evil.” Morality is assessed using various standards or precepts of goodness or codes of behavior. Morality represents a set of customs within a society, class, or social group that attempt to regulate relationships and prescribed behaviors that enhance the group’s survival (Morris, 1981, p. 853).

Morality is based on presumption of what is an accepted mode of behavior that is established or provided by an authoritative source, e.g., religion, culture (including that within a group organization), social class, community, or family (Cooper, 2006).

Ethos as Moral Custom

The Greek term for a moral custom was ethos, a meaning which has expanded for hundreds of years to now include a principle of right, correct, or good conduct, including a body of such principles. Ethical came to mean a practice that was conducted within the accepted definitions of right and wrong, and governed the conduct of the group. Ethics represents the general study of morals, including the rules or standards by which the conduct of a group or profession are evaluated and judged (Morris, 1981).

Codes of Conduct

Organizational codes of conduct – ethical standards – can be seen as articulations and declarations of core values and acceptable behavior on the part of the individual or organization that its actions and decisions can, indeed, be trusted. Applied to ethics, Hosmer (1995) suggests that trust is the result of behavior that recognizes and protects the interests of others – the overriding goal being to increase cooperation and achieved benefits within a joint endeavor or exchange.

Trust is a relationship in which some personal or organizational vulnerability is accepted because our analysis suggests a collective, general optimism is justified in a mutually beneficial outcome based on expectations or conditions of moral (socially expected and /or defined as acceptable) behavior.

Codes of ethics and conduct such as those endorsed by APA, represent the standards of practice supported, espoused, and directed by that organization. The codes delineate and outline the collective values of that professional organization, and typically cover a number of ethical areas and considerations. Most codes of ethics and conduct include two major components, including: definitions and explanations for recommended or mandatory professional behavior on the part of those professionals practicing in that field; and, what Kocet (2006) explains is encouragement regarding ethical reflection to help clarify and improve the fundamental ethical beliefs held by that profession.

A hypothetical but realistic scenario facing some NPO leaders and managers today might be assessed using this blended model along the following lines…
Awareness of situation…
The human services nonprofit organization for which you serve as the Executive Director, has recently lost the source of revenue on which the organization depended to fund the volunteer resource manager position.
Situational description…
In an effort to balance the organization’s budget before reaching a dangerous state of insolvency, the organization’s personnel committee, comprised of three members of the Board of Directors, has met and is prepared to recommend the termination of the paid staff position of volunteer resource manager, in favor of replacing that staff member with a volunteer.

Stakeholder identification…

Board of Directors
Their loyalty to the organization and their sense of fiduciary responsibility, represent important core values in play.
NPO senior staff
Loyalty to the organization, loyalty to staff, fairness, professionalism, teamwork, integrity, and mutual respect are among the core values initially identified as important to senior staff members.
Volunteer resource manager
Security, fairness, loyalty, professionalism, are all expected core value issues with the staff member most directly affected by the committee’s recommendation.
There are other potential stakeholders that could be considered in this explanation, e.g., the organizations volunteer corps, the membership, clients depending on the volunteer services, and the community at large.
The Board of Directors feels a primary responsibility to their fiduciary duties and seeks an outcome of a balanced budget.

The senior organizational staff are quite concerned about the negative ramifications of a pending termination on the organization’s morale and esprit de corps, its operational effectiveness in light of a change in volunteer management from seasoned professional to an individual lacking equivalent training, and the devastating economic consequences to the soon-to-be former volunteer resource management professional. The senior staff would prefer to retain their colleague and to ensure the continuation of the organizations exemplary record in human services delivery through its effectively managed volunteer resource program.

The volunteer resource manager, although not yet aware of the pending recommendation from the committee, can certainly be expected to be devastated by the news. The potential for “political” fallout from the individual should be considered significant. Clearly, their desired outcome would be that the issue never presented itself in the first place, and that they be retained in their present position.
Selected course of action: following a confidential meeting of the senior staff in which the situation was reviewed in great detail in terms of ethical principles, moral rules, and potential ramifications, the senior staff voted to accept a temporary 5% pay cut to ensure the continuation of the volunteer resource manager until additional funding sources could be identified. The group decision unified the staff around a common purpose, reaffirmed important core values for them and for the organization, and upheld the Board of Director’s fiduciary responsibilities, including the continuation of a balanced budget.

Ethical perspective in NPO management literature since 1980
Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980
Nonprofit Organization Handbook, 1980

One approach to achieving better understanding of an emerging trend is to do so within what could be seen as an historical perspective or framework. In this case, the baseline for the framework is the publication in 1980 of the first Nonprofit Organization Handbook (Connors, 1980).

The handbook was organized around the premise that regardless of the specific human service provided by a nonprofit organization, all shared seven fundamental areas of management, including: organization and corporate principles; leadership, management and control; sources of revenue; human resource development and management; fiscal management (budgeting, accounting, and record-keeping); and, public relations and communications.

A review of the index for this first edition reveals a single entry under the category “ethics.” The context in which it was used within the book was an observation that “a growing number of nonprofit organizations now employ a professional manager, a full-time paid employees and supervisors and is responsible for the daily routine business of the organization” (Connors, 1980b, p. 2-70). The single reference to ethics and this major handbook appeared when the author noted that the area of managing nonprofit organizations has become a profession itself “with its own high code of ethics and standards” (Connors, 1980b, p. 2-70).

ConnorsTD_BookRow

Over the next 21 years five subsequent major handbooks focused on nonprofit organization management were published, the latest in 2001 (Connors, 2001). A review of the index for this volume offers a startling contrast to the first NPO handbook. The subject of ethics appears throughout the book with multiple page coverage focused on ethics in all aspects of managerial behavior and policy, including: behavior; budgeting; compensation practices; fundraising; human resource management; international business; and, numerous mentions of professional codes of conduct. An entire chapter is devoted to “Ethics and Values in the Nonprofit Organization” (Meneghetti & Seel, 2001). Clearly ethics is now understood to be a critical component of NPO management and decision-making.

Ethics and Public Trust

Dr. Joan Pynes contributed a most important chapter to the The Volunteer Management Handbook (Second Edition), entitled, “Professional Ethics for Volunteers” (Pynes, 2011). The author points out that to survive nonprofits must maintain public trust. One important component of that collective trust is based on paid staff and organizational volunteers fulfilling their responsibilities in a lawful, ethical, and competence manner. This objective far exceeds simply complying with formal controls, program reports, and financial audits. Instead, it is vitally important that nonprofits establish an aspirational internal ethical climate.

Pynes (2011) recommends that NPO managers establish a strategic human resource management program that uses defined and formal systems within the organization to ensure the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources to fulfill the organization’s mission. There is no doubt the nonprofit sector currently faces many daunting challenges. Nor is there any doubt that new problems and changes within external and internal environments will constantly present themselves to all of our managers and leaders.

The people on whom our nonprofits depend to fulfill our organizational missions, are highly affected by the cultures we establish within which they must participate and contribute. Clearly articulated values, ethical principles, and codes that explain how our ethics are interpreted and used for action and decision-making, are highly significant –they define our culture and the relationships between those who were members of that culture. When inevitable ethical dilemmas present themselves, the successful NPO executive will know to follow a well-defined ethical decision-making process to find the best possible solution or resolution.

Suggested citation:

Connors, T. D. (2016, February 17). Perspectives on ethics: When I am vulnerable, can I trust you? [Is it ethical can often be determined by asking: when I am vulnerable, can I trust you?]. Retrieved from NPO Crossroads: http://www.npocrossroads.com/management/perspectives-on-ethics-when-i-am-vulnerable-can-i-trust-you/

References

Connors, T. D. (1980). The nonprofit organization handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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Meneghetti, M. M., & Seel, K. (2001). Ethics and values in the nonprofit organization. In T. D. Connors (Ed.), The nonprofit handbook: Management (3rd ed.) (pp. 579-609). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Son.
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