Disagreements within work environment are unavoidable. If managed prudently, such disagreements can act as a medium for change and may have a positive effect on workers. On the contrary, if conflicts are not managed well, they may have a negative impact on job performance and worker satisfaction. When disagreements are ignored by the management, it gives an idea that unacceptable job performance and unfortunate conducts are tolerable. Unacceptable job performance and poor conduct on the part of the employees can have an impact on the overall morale of the employees, which consequently can lead to low productivity (Maldonado, 2012, p. 1).
Well managed conflicts are most common in organizations and institutions that encourage open communication, teamwork, regular response and prompt resolution of conflicts. Open communication and teamwork promotes the flow of new ideas and reinforces work relations, which in the long run boosts employee confidence. On the other hand, regular response and prompt resolution of conflict enhance job performance and employee satisfaction (Classen & Reiner, 2005, p. 5).
In contrast, an environment that does not promote conflict resolution normally lead to poor conduct among staff members and unacceptable job performance (Rachels & Rachels, 2010, p. 25). In addition, badly managed conflict encourages poor communication and bad behavior among the employees. Subsequently, poor conduct negatively affects employee confidence and the overall productivity of the organization/institution (Classen & Reiner, 2005, p. 5). According to Harvey and Ventura (2005, p. 36), “conflict is not only an exasperation, but also cost money. The cost is in terms of time wasted, poor decisions and high employee turnover rate”.
Regardless of the negative effect of unhandled conflict, most managers tend to ignore the problem until it spreads to an extent that the personnel department is involved. Routine conflicts are viewed as minor differences between employees that do not warrant any action. Regrettably, unresolved conflicts more often than not grow and spread like a bonfire, eventually affecting the employees’ job performance and satisfaction (Maldonado, 2012, p. 3).
In the health sector, the performance and conduct of the employees are very important since they have an impact on the patient’s health and lives. In addition, the principal challenge in the health care sector is the implementation of the processes that ensures that conflicts are managed in a fair and just manner (Maldonado, 2012, p. 1). This paper will analyze ethical decision-making dilemma during conflict management, particularly in the Florida Department of Health. The paper will address most significant ethical decisions that have been made to tackle conflicts in the Florida Health Department.
Background of the study
The US healthcare sector is susceptible to pressures and tensions like any other sector. The overall well being of the employees in the world today is affected by numerous factors, which include intricate and multidimensional family demands, transport systems, economic demands, societal changes, and technological demands among others. Given the present economic environment and the rate of unemployment, the number of individuals without health insurance coverage has tremendously increased. As a result, the demand for subsidized care from health institutions and healthcare staff is increasing day after day, forcing hospitals to cut back on their staff and resources (Craig, 2009). Despite the above challenges, the quality of care provided to patients must meet the standard set by the Joint Commission on Healthcare in 2009. This has led to the provision of health care services in an environment that is prone to workplace disagreements. When such disagreements are not solved very fast, they may affect the quality of health care services provided to the patients (Craig, 2009).
This explains why most health care providers in the US have shifted their attention to civility and interpersonal skills. This is because they cannot control the amount of resources allocated to the health sector by the government, but can handle employees’ behavior and performance. The Joint Commission on Healthcare gave hospitals authority to develop policies and procedures for conflict management. Unfortunately, the existence of these policies and procedures do not guarantee adherence on the part of employees (Schyve, 2009, p. 2). Nonetheless, well defined and implemented policies ensure timely detection and resolution of conflicts among the healthcare workers. Such policies provide a proactive and steady response, encourage open communication, and support all-inclusive problem solving as a means of finding solutions (Craig, 2009).
Statement of the problem
In the current business environment, many organizations are seeking better cooperation between their employees because they are driven by the desire to better their services. Big companies or corporations normally have policies that define their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR). The CSR defines how the company interacts with the society (Hartman & Desjardins, 2014, p. 4). Business ethics is another important factor in service delivery. Generally, there are three types of ethics. The first form of ethics is descriptive ethics in which moral standards differ from one society to the other. The second form of ethics is normative ethics, which describes the norms that are accepted in one society but are denounced in another society. The third form of ethics is analytic ethics which fosters the idea that the level of morality is comparative (Harris, Sapienza & Bowie, 2009, p. 407).
Business ethic is a combination of all the three types of ethics mentioned above. Business ethic is defined as the assessment of the manner in which people or organizations are expected to conduct themselves in the field of business. To be specific, business ethic assesses the various limitations that hinder an individual or organization from satisfying self interest, or realizing huge profits when the activities of the individuals or the businesses influence each other. Business ethic is concerned with the various ethical principles or ethical problems that occur in different field of business. In addition, business ethic checks on the behavior of the business or the behavior of the various stakeholders that run the business (Harris, Sapienza & Bowie, 2009, p. 408).
Business ethic is normally applied in the health sector to ensure that hospitals are properly managed according to the ethical standards. Ethics play the role of moderating the ethical behavior that cannot be regulated by the statutory laws. The government normally uses laws to enforce the required business ethical standards. Business ethics, on the other hand, are used by businesses to set up a standard of behaviors that are not captured by the statutory laws. The development of business ethics has been enhanced by the rise of big business entities that do not pay more attention to the welfare of the surrounding community. In a nutshell, business ethics refers to the moral principles that govern the operations or regulations of a business (Harris, Sapienza & Bowie, 2009, p. 409).
Ethics and social responsibility are very significant values in business/institution management, especially in the decision-making process. Ethical principles help the managers to make upright and beneficial decisions. Similarly, social responsibility assists in making decisions that improve productivity and ward off grievances from the stakeholders (Rachels & Rachels, 2010, p. 18). For these reasons, business ethics and social responsibility play a crucial role in managing conflicts within an organization. However, organizations often experience ethical decision-making dilemma when managing conflict in the workplace (Chau & Siu, 2000, p. 367).
Conflict management and ethics in the workplace often interact in a complex system of power relations, hierarchical structure, and more often than not contradicting goals of competitiveness and fairness. Human Resource department oversees this interaction. The main responsibility of the HR boss is conflict resolution and delivery of justice in the workplace. Nonetheless, the HR managers cannot be regarded as neutral mediators. Therefore, one of the ethical decision-making dilemmas facing many HR managers when managing conflict in the workplace is whether to adhere to the organization’s ethical standards, statutory laws or directive from the centres of power (Gramberg & Teicher, 2005, p. 2).
Case Study: Conflict Resolution in Florida Department of Health
Florida Department of Health (FDH) is a statutory agency responsible for safeguarding the wellbeing and safety of all people living in the state of Florida. This is achieved through an integrated state, county and neighborhood programs. The agency’s headquarters is in Tallahassee, Florida. It is headed by a surgeon general who reports to the county administrator. The agency is responsible for nearly 70 county health departments. In addition, the agency has over 17000 employees scattered across the county (Florida Department of Health, 2014).
Like many other organizations, conflict management in the Florida Department of Health is handled by the HR department. The agency has an ethical code that guides conflict resolution. It provides the procedures for handling grievances within the agency. It is also based on the conventional practices of conflict resolution, which focuses on fairness and justice. Joint Commission on Healthcare gives healthcare organizations authority to formulate their own policies and procedures for managing conflicts. However, the established policies and procedures must be in line with the statutory laws (American Health Lawyers Association, 2010, p. 1).
However, the agency’s code does not guarantee fairness and justice. The process suffers from the problem of neutrality and impartiality. According to the global mediation standards, individuals leading the mediation process should have no relationship or vested interests with the parties in question. This cannot be achieved when the HR managers or staffs are the mediators as in the case of Florida Department of Health. Warnick (1993, p. 30) argues that neutrality is difficult to be achieved when the HR staff are involved in the mediation process. He stresses that no other post in the organization requires extreme balancing of contradictory roles as that of the HR manager. The HR Manager in the Florida Department of Health normally assumes three roles during the mediation process: act as a fire fighter, solution hunter and intercessor. These roles are arguably unethical due to conflict of interest.
One of the most recent studies conducted on the agency confirms this. The study established that most HR managers are under pressure from their bosses to compromise the organization’s ethical standard during the mediation process. The study also established that ethical behavior is not only a rare function of personal value, but also dictated by external pressures. Therefore, the fear of risking one’s present or prospective employment forces many HR managers to compromise the agency’s ethical standard during conflict resolution process. The study also established that the HR managers face numerous challenges in meeting the preconditions of neutrality. These challenges include inability to make informed choices and clash of interest with the superiors. For this reason, the dilemma facing the HR managers is whether to adhere to the organization’s ethical standards or directive from the centers of power.
This ethical decision-making dilemma during conflict resolution is not new. In fact, a study conducted by Tyler in 1988 on workplace equality established that managers were basically focused on tasks or results and, therefore, their decisions were more to do with tangible goal achievement and less to do with justice (Gramberg & Teicher, 2005, p. 9). The prioritization of financial gain over ethics is well explained by Chau and Siu (2000, p. 367). Chau and Siu (2000, p. 367) argues that the main goal of many organizations is capital gain. As a result, long-term commitment to impartiality is impossible to sustain.
Is it possible to tackle this quandary by prioritizing business ethics over economic gain? Vickers (2005, p. 32) argues that, even if the organizational ethical code was applied, there is no law that prompts organizations to do so. Since, the Joint Commission on Healthcare gives healthcare authorities power to develop policies and procedures for conflict resolution, the HR managers are under no obligation to stick to them as long as he/she has support from “above”. Hartman and Desjardins (2014, p. 7) explain that many ethical decision makers are faced with major challenges in their course of ethical decision-making. These challenges include: big goals to be achieved, inadequate experience, inability to make informed choices, clash of interest with the superiors of the business, and lack of cooperation among the various stakeholders of the business.
Ethical decision-making is mainly influenced by the business environment. Therefore, the decisions always change with the changing business environment. In addition, ethical decisions vary from one kind of business to another. For instance, the kind of ethical decisions that are made in the healthcare sector is different from the decisions that are made in the industrial sector. The ability to make an ethical decision does not automatically stem from the desire to make the decision. This means that ethical decision-making is a spontaneous affair rather than a planned one (Hartman & Desjardins, 2014, p. 7).
The solution to the ethical dilemma
An effective decision-making model and an efficient code of ethics can help the agency’s HR managers make a sensible ethical decision. The decisions will be productive and justifiable. HR managers who make good ethical decisions are in a good position to market themselves as highly ethical professionals with great integrity (Harris, Sapienza & Bowie, 2009, p. 409). One of the most effective models that can help to avert the above dilemma is the Fischer’s model for ethical decision-making (Fischer, 2000). Dr. Marilyn Fischer explains that in order to make a good ethical decision a good question has to be asked. The first step to take when making decisions is to identify the problem. Problem identification must consider three significant areas. The three areas include the mission of the organization, the relationships among the colleagues and other stakeholders, and the level of personal integrity. The mission of the organization should be considered in order to make sure that the decisions that are made do not violate the overall mission of the organization (Fischer, 2000, p. 13).
It is also important to note how the decision made is going to affect the status of relationships that exist among the employees or between the aggrieved parties and the HR managers, or between the organization and the members of the society. Lastly, it is very important to consider how the decision is going to impact on the individual’s personal integrity, for instance, whether it will lower or raise the integrity of the parties involved (Fischer, 2000, p. 13). Fischer’s model of ethical decision-making further implies that when making ethical decisions, an individual will always be guided by the culture of the business, the ethical codes that govern the business, the morals and the values of the business. When the views of all the stakeholders are put into consideration, it becomes easier to make the best decision that will be highly welcomed by everybody (Fischer, 2000, p. 14).
Decision-making through Fischer’s model is very flexible in that it allows for mistakes. However, the mistakes are only allowed after paying attention to the three areas, namely: the mission of the organization, the relationships among the employees, and the level of personal integrity. This is because it is easy to correct the mistakes and choose the right decision from many alternatives (Fischer, 2000, p. 13). Furthermore, ethical decision-making is mainly influenced by the business environment. For this reason, the decisions always change with the changing business environment. In addition, the ethical decisions vary from one kind of business to another. For instance, the kind of ethical decisions that are made in the healthcare sector is different from the decisions that are made the banking sector. As already been mentioned, the ability to make the ethical decisions does not automatically stem from the desire to make the ethical decisions. This means that ethical decision-making is a spontaneous affair rather than a planned one (Fischer, 2000, p. 13).
The alternative solution to the dilemma
The dilemma can also be handled through a comprehensive conflict management program. The agency needs to look beyond the conventional conflict management programs and code of ethics. The programs can be customized for specific healthcare institutions. One of such programs is the REDRESS program. REDRESS is an abbreviation for Resolving Employment Disputes and Reaching an Equitable Solution Swiftly. The REDRESS program originated from the postal staff in Northern Florida. The program is aimed at managing disputes in a more effective and prompt manner. The program is currently gaining popularity across different sectors (Craig, 2009).
The recommended solution to the dilemma
The problem of neutrality and impartiality can be best tackled by a model that merges the elements of Fischer’s model and REDRESS program. Fischer’s model will ensure that the three critical areas in ethical decision-making are incorporated into the model. The three areas include: the mission of the organization, the relationships among the colleagues and other stakeholders, and the level of personal integrity. At the same time, the REDRESS program will ensure that neutral and impartial solution is reached promptly.
Conflicts within the work environment are very common. They are caused by both internal and external factors. Well-managed conflicts act as a medium for change and may have a positive effect on employees. On the contrary, if conflicts are not managed well, they may have a negative impact on job performance and employee satisfaction. In the health sector, the performance and conduct of the employees are very important since they have an impact on the patient’s health and lives. For this reason, prudent management of conflict is very crucial. Like many other organizations and institutions in the US, conflict management in the Florida Department of Health is handled by the HR department. The agency has an ethical code that guides conflict resolution. However, the agency’s code does not guarantee fairness and justice. The agency’s conflict resolution process often suffers from the problem of neutrality and impartiality. According to the conventional mediation standards, individuals leading the mediation process should have no relationship or vested interests with the parties in question. This cannot be achieved when the HR managers or staffs are the mediators. The problem of neutrality and impartiality can be best tackled by a model that merges the elements of Fischer’s model and REDRESS program.