The Ethics of Managing People
A healthcare manager will be confronted with ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. Most of the time, unconsciously, the manager will make the right decision and will “do the right thing.”
In spite of this, errors in judgment, detrimental decisions, and unintentional mistakes are made. Healthcare managers often find the management of people to be the most difficult part of their job. However, successful executives routinely practice ethical principles and management strategies that reflect these concepts. These executives have found that practical strategies can be incorporated into the daily management of people that reinforce and routinize ethical principles. Such strategies include, but are not limited to, management style, role modeling, and culture, recruitment, and hiring practices, performance evaluation, team building, firing practices, and references.
Management Style, Role Modeling, and Culture
Healthcare managers have certain ethical obligations to the employees they manage. These include creating a safe work environment that fosters ethical behavior and is free from harassment and coercion especially to perform illegal or unethical acts. The work environment must also be free of discrimination of any kind with employees treated fairly and equitably. This includes fair compensation for work done, an equitable opportunity for advancement, and honest and fair performance appraisals and rewards using the same standards for all employees. A departmental culture that encourages ethical behavior and civility among co-workers will contribute greatly to a corporate culture that expects the same standards. Respect among coworkers translates to respect for clients and customers.
Personnel policies, whether corporate or departmental, should be constructive, not punitive in nature and developed with the goal of improving work performance, not just as disciplinary action. It is the responsibility of each manager to nurture such a culture within his/her sphere of influence.
Recruitment and Hiring Practices
Some of the most important decisions a manager will make involve employee hiring. The task of hiring staff, therefore, is one that should be taken very seriously. Inexperienced managers sometimes look to hire staff who may be easy to control. They may be afraid to hire someone “smarter” than they are for fear of losing full authority. While experienced managers know that in order to achieve organizational goals, it is important to recruit and hire bright people for key positions who will bring needed skills and talents to the tasks at hand. In addition to knowledge, skills, talents, and experience, smart managers will seek out prospective recruits who reflect integrity and strong character. It is much easier to teach knowledge and skills than it is to teach integrity and character. Positive employees of strong character contribute greatly to productivity, morale, and to an ethical work environment.
Also, when interviewing potential employees, the manager has an ethical responsibility to be honest and candid about the organization, its financial status, salary, benefits, job security, corporate culture, expectations of the position, and the like.
Regularly scheduled, timely performance evaluations are an important part of the manager’s role and responsibility to each employee. In addition to that, the manager should provide an ongoing candid critique of job performance that helps employees grow and master skills.
Some managers procrastinate when it comes to this task because it makes them feel uncomfortable to discuss areas that need improvement with the employee. It is unfair to hold back what could be constructive comments and “blindside” employees with criticism at an annual performance review. Ethical healthcare managers will further ensure a working environment that properly utilizes the skills and abilities of each employee.
To promote teamwork, managers must model behaviors that nurture it. They must teach employees who lack the skills just how to participate in the healthy debate, how to practice “civil disagreement” how to discuss controversial and not so controversial issues as a team seeking acceptable resolutions to problems. Also, they must never show favoritism and must not allow employees to gossip, belittle coworkers, or make disparaging comments about their work. Some employees may believe that if they make coworkers look bad, it may make them look better. Employees should be encouraged to think independently and express ideas freely. Providing equal access to one’s time and attention for all team members is another way a manager can foster teamwork. Reasonable and equitable access to the boss fosters teamwork and encourages more interaction between coworkers for problem resolution.
Employees who always agree with the “boss” contribute little to the discussion.
It is unfair to the organization that is paying a wage for unsatisfactory work. It is unfair to the manager who will find it necessary to commit enormous time and energy to “cleaning up” after a poor performer. It is unfair to clients or others who may be directly or indirectly affected by the poor performance. It is unfair to coworkers who may have to pick up the slack. The manager does no one favor by not firing an employee who is not doing his/her job. The firing of an employee should be done with honesty, clear explanation, fairness, respect, and in such a way as to enable the employee to retain as much dignity and self-respect as possible.
If a reference is being sought regarding a current employee, managers must be equally fair and honest. If the employee is valuable to the organization the manager may be reluctant to give glowing reports of performance, but honesty must prevail. When providing references, the focus is generally on the employee. The fairness issues here, however, is twofold; there is an obligation to be fair to the one doing the asking, as well as to the one being asked about. It may be easy to dismiss the obligation to those seeking the reference because they are, after all, usually strangers. Ethics applies to all situations and to all relationships.