Ethics In The Workplace Case Study Action Plan

Do you have an ethics problem in your organization? Or maybe the ethics of your workers is acceptable but you want to improve them? Perhaps your organization only has a few areas that need to be targeted. The reasons that leaders of an organization would choose to implement ethics training are varied.

The best reason is that good ethics is simply good business.

The opposite is also true: Bad ethics is bad business. In fact, over 50% of the largest corporate bankruptcies have occurred because of unethical practices. If that isn’t bad enough, in 2011 these bankruptcies totaled $1.228 trillion or close to 10% of the United States GDP. No business can afford unethical practices.

Yet, knowing this isn’t enough. Good ethics must be taught and reinforced. They don’t just happen. Your employees must be trained in ethical decision-making and behavior. Quality workplace ethics training can improve the morale of your employees, which will also improve the efficiency and profitability of your organization. Engaging and interactive workplace ethics training can foster authentic team building in order to create a cohesive, productive unit. Here are 5 workplace ethics training activities you can implement in your organization now:

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #1: Ethics Dilemma Discussion

In this activity, employees have an opportunity to work through various ethical dilemmas and decide the best route to take. In order to reinforce the desired decision, a leader should discuss what is the best route to take. Some examples may be:

  • You see a coworker harassing another employee, or you see a supervisor harassing or bullying a subordinate. What do you do?
  • A coworker is consistently late, and you know it’s because of their home situation; however, they continue to slide into work unnoticed. Do you say something or not?
  • You hear a colleague make a pejorative slur against another racial or ethnic group. Do you address it?

Activity Directions:

  1. Employees are arranged in groups of four to six. Make sure the groupings are random; ensure that no “cliques” or clusters of friends are put together.
  2. From a set of cards that explain various ethical dilemmas, one is drawn and read aloud to all the groups.
  3. Each group then discusses the variables of the situation and the best way to handle it.
  4. When all groups have reached a decision, the facilitator asks a representative from each group to explain what the group decided.
  5. At this point, the facilitator manages whole group discussion of what would be the best decision and the pros and cons of that and other decisions.

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #2: Role Play Touchy Situations and Crucial Conversations

This activity is best suited for difficult situations that arise quickly and require a prompt response. Usually such situations don't allow much time for deliberation, so it’s important to have a set plan from the outset and to have walked through it. Some examples may be:

  • If a coworker states that they want to kill themselves or harm others, do you report it?
  • Variation: You hear that a child wants to kill themselves or harm others. What do you do?
  • You are working in retail and you see a coworker taking from the cash register or overcharging a customer and pocketing the rest. Do you report them?
  • You work in a company that has petty cash and it’s supposed to be turned in everyday, however, you find a coworker who is pocketing the cash.
  • In a group setting, everyone is asked to give a verbal vote or show of hands, you don’t agree but you don’t want to be the only one to disagree. Do you go along or no?

Activity Directions:

  1. The facilitator holds various scenario cards and a participant chooses one.
  2. The facilitator chooses the number of volunteers necessary to role play.
  3. Participants take a few minutes to decide who will play which role, discuss the scenario and the possible outcomes, both good and bad.
  4. Participants act out the scenario with bad decisions as well as the correct, most ethical outcome.
  5. Everyone discuss the outcomes and what would be the best decision.

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #3: Generate Ethical Dilemmas

It is often a great idea to allow your participants to generate ethical dilemmas. One, it saves you a lot of work. Two, it allows them to be creative and provides you the opportunity to see this creativity.

Activity Directions:

  1. Arrange employees in groups of four to six, again with no friend clusters.
  2. Each group brainstorms within itself what are the most tricky or common ethical dilemmas.
  3. They select one dilemma to explore.
  4. On a piece of poster paper, have each group write down their best ethical dilemma and what would be the best decisions to make related to it.
  5. Share out to the entire group.

Related: Workplace Ethics Training Tips to Improve Employee Accountability to Improve Employee Accountability

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #4: Match Up Competition

In this activity, participants match various scenarios with the appropriate and inappropriate responses. Every scenario will have an appropriate and inappropriate answer.

Activity Directions:

  1. Arrange employees in groups of two (any larger and it’s easy for some to not participate).
  2. Each team will be given a set of scenarios with corresponding appropriate and inappropriate actions. These will be shuffled.
  3. Now each team must match up scenarios to actions.
  4. The pair that finishes first wins. Be sure to have a prize, to make the competition fun and engaging.

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #5: Technological Ethics Search and Find

In this activity, employees will use their cell phones to search real world situations that demanded ethical decision making. Once they have found a situation, they will analyze it. This activity is geared especially for millennials who favor the use of technology (with 86% of those ages 18-29 owning a smart phone).

Activity Directions:

  1. Arrange employees into groups of three.
  2. Each group will find an ethical dilemma that has happened in the “real world.” This dilemma should pertain to the business or industry of your company.
  3. Participants will analyze the situation and determine:
  • What was the actual dilemma?
  • What were the possible choices?
  • What was the actual choice taken?
  • What would be the best course of action?

4. Participants will then share their findings with the whole group.

Start Using These Workplace Ethics Training Activities To Improve Your Workplace Today

Every company needs strong workplace ethics training for its employees. With careful planning and action, you can create well-designed workplace ethics training activities that are beneficial for all your employees. The five shared here are a springboard. Feel free to use these and adjust them to best suit your organization or design your own. Just be sure to thoroughly address ethical decision making and behavior. A strong ethical foundation will improve the morale of your employees and increase productivity and profitability.

Using Ethics Training To Navigate Ethical Scenarios In The Workplace

Every organization faces its share of dilemmas that pose tricky ethical and moral questions. Yours will, too. It’s best if you can address these situations with your employees before they ever occur. Using well-designed ethics training activities to effectively train your staff in consistently choosing the correct, ethical response is your best, most proactive option.

However, it must be noted that even all the preparation, forethought and training in the world won’t prepare you or your employees for the myriad of situations that may arise. There are simply too many possibilities to be able to address them all with an applicable set of ethics training activities. In that case, after a situation occurs, you should train your employees in making the best possible choice for such a scenario.

Common Ethical Dilemmas and their Corresponding Ethics Training Activities

What are some common ethically-challenging scenarios, and what ethics training activities would best address them? Here are examples of two of the most common ethical dilemmas that employees face in their workplace:

  1. What do you do when you’re faced with an opportunity to lie, cheat or steal for the betterment of yourself? Of course it’s easy to say, make the moral, ethic choice; however, is it easy when you’re strapped for cash and the register is fortuitously open?

  2. What do you do when you observe a colleague (or even more challenging - a supervisor) lying, cheating or stealing, and you know that to report them is to risk negative repercussions for yourself? Or, what do you do when you discover a coworker making dangerous threats against himself or others and you're not sure whether to take him seriously or not?

Ethical Dilemma #1: What do you do when faced with an opportunity to lie, cheat or steal for the betterment of yourself?

Unfortunately, this a very common dilemma. If you add a qualifier to the action - “it's just a little white lie,” “I'll take one from here and move it to there,” or “I'll borrow this, no one will notice” - it becomes frighteningly easy to justify. Often this sort of behavior is excused under: “Everyone does it” or "It doesn't hurt anyone." 

Ideally, you want to teach your employees that “No, everyone doesn’t do it” and it's best to choose otherwise. You want to prepare your employees in advance to choose the right behavior before the decision ever has to be made. How best to handle this dilemma that can come in a range of behaviors?

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #1: Ethics Dilemma Discussion

With this training activity, you can think up a series of probable ethics conundrums that may occur that deal with lying, cheating and/or stealing. It helps to devise some dilemmas so that some of the correct choices are fairly obvious while other correct choices are subtle and tricky. Have your employees sit in small groups and discuss the dilemmas and the range of possible behavior options. Finally, have them whittle down their options to the appropriate responses, making sure to guide them the entire time. You don’t want them walking out of your ethics training activities with the wrong set of beliefs.

Ethical Dilemma #2: What do you do when you observe a colleague lying, cheating or stealing, and in order to report them you have to risk negative repercussions for yourself?

This sort of ethical dilemma is extremely tricky. The trickiness is increased if there’s a risk of negative consequences for the reporting employee. Often, in such cases, decisions must be made quickly, and they must be the correct decision the first time around. Your employees have to be prepared to give the correct response.

Consider this Scenario: Rita the Pilfering Head Manager

Rita is the head manager of a bustling, on-campus fast food facility that serves several thousand students each day. She has only five years left until retirement and is one the corporation’s major revenue generators. Rita runs a tight, efficient ship and turns a hefty profit for the company. She has one day-shift supervisor and one night-shift supervisor, who are student managers. One evening, the night-shift student manager, Jennifer, walks into the back room during closing and spies Rita stuffing a handful of $20 bills into her pocket. Jennifer quickly backs out before Rita notices her. That night, like every night, the receipts balance for the day’s sales, so there’s no proof. What should Jennifer do? If she tells, she risks being fired by Rita as retribution, and there’s no proof anyway. If she doesn’t tell, she’s colluding with Rita. This is where Workplace Ethics Training Activity #2 may help.

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #2: Role Play Touchy Situations and Crucial Conversations

This is where the “Jennifers” must be prepared, and well-trained, to make the correct choice, regardless of the repercussions. They must be trained to come forward and share what they've seen. Additionally, the organization must embrace a culture where telling won’t come with a penalty. The organization must protect those who come forward about their colleagues and superiors when they observe them committing unethical, illegal or immoral acts. Well-designed ethics training activities can help.

Ethical Dilemma #3: A la’ Carte

This isn't based upon any particular ethical dilemma. Rather, it's a brainstorming session for coming up with real-world situations. The training activity that best suits this brainstorming project is Workplace Ethics Training Activity #3.

Workplace Ethics Training Activity #3: Generate Ethical Dilemmas

In this activity you allow your employees the opportunity to address situations they may have experienced or observed that they haven’t been free to resolve. Ask them to share true situations (not made up) of ethical, moral or legal conflicts they may have found themselves in or may have observed. This activity will reveal ethical dilemmas in your organization, many of which you will have no clue are occurring. 

Workplace Ethics Training Activities are a Must

You must have high-quality ethics training activities in place to prepare your employees to make the right choices at the right time. Often with challenging situations, time is of the essence and snap decisions are the norm. Your employees must be ready to make these decisions correctly and consistently. Making this a priority in your organization will pay off in the long run with employees who are amply prepared to make correct ethical choices that honor themselves and your organization.

You may also be interested in these employee development posts:

To learn more about the benefits of employee development, contact Edge Training at 800-305-2025.

Ethics in the Workplace: Case Study Action Plan

Determine all the facts: symptoms of problems and root problems in the case attached.


In 1995, Douglas Durand was offered the position of vice-president for sales at TAP Pharmaceuticals. TAP had been formed 25 years before by Takeda Chemical Industries of Japan and Abbott Laboratories. Doug, 50 years old at the time, had married his high school sweetheart and worked for Merck & Co. for 20 years, working his way up in the sales organization to senior regional director. TAP offered him the opportunity to earn 40 percent more per year (in addition to a $50,000 signing bonus) and help the company move from niche player to mass market purveyor of ulcer and prostate cancer medicine. He took advantage of the opportunity and looked forward to the challenge.

But only a few months after arriving at TAP, he was shocked to find a very different culture from the one he had become accustomed to at Merck. Merck has long had a reputation for ethics and social responsibility and this had been borne out in
Durand's two decades of experience. For example, at Merck, every new marketing campaign was evaluated by a legal and regulatory team before being launched, and drugs were pulled back if necessary. But TAP turned out to be very different. It
quickly became clear that this was a culture where only numbers mattered. On his very first day on the job, Durand learned that TAP had no in-house legal counsel.

The legal counsel was considered a "sales prevention department." At one point, Durand found himself listening in on a conference call where sales representatives were openly discussing bribing urologists with an up-front "administration fee" to doctors who prescribed Lupron, the company's new drug for prostate cancer. TAP sales representatives also gave doctors Lupron samples at a discount or for free, and then encouraged the doctors to charge Medicare full price and keep the difference. He overheard doctors boasting about their Lupron purchases of boats and second homes. TAP offered a big screen TV to every urologist in the country (10,000!), along with offers of office equipment and golf vacations. And reps weren't accounting for the free samples they gave away, as required by law. Durand knew that failure to account for a single dose can lead to a fine of as much as $1 million. Finally, rather than selling drugs based upon good science, TAP held parties for doctors. One such party for a new ulcer drug featured "Tummy," a giant fire-belching stomach. Durand soon became frantic and worried about his own guilt by association. Initially, he tried to change the culture. After all, he had been hired as a vice president. But, everything he tried was resisted. He was told that he just didn't understand the culture at TAP. When he talked about the importance of earning physicians' trust, the sales reps just rolled their eyes. He then tried to influence change "the TAP way" by offering a bonus to reps who kept accurate records of their samples. The program actually worked, but then senior management discontinued the bonus, and, of course, the reps stopped keeping track. Over time, he found himself excluded from meetings and he felt trapped. What would happen to him if he left this new job in less than a year? He wouldn't collect his bonus and he wondered if anyone else would hire him. What would happen to his family? But he also worried about becoming the corporate scapegoat.

In desperation, Durand turned to an old friend he knew from Merck, Glenna Crooks, now president of Strategic Health Policy International. Appalled by what she heard, Crooks encouraged him to document the abuses he had observed and
share the information with Elizabeth Ainslie, a Philadelphia attorney. Given the documented fraud against the U.S. government, Ainslie encouraged Durand to sue TAP under the federal whistle-blower program. Armed with documents, he filed the suit and federal prosecutors ran with it. Durand left TAP for Astra Merck in 1996. But under the whistle-blower program, investigations are conducted in secret. Neither TAP nor Astra Merck was supposed to know about it. The investigation took years and, when called to testify, Durand had to make excuses to take time off from his
new job.

He was uncomfortably living as a "double agent." In the end, TAP pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat the federal government and agreed to pay a record $875 million fine. In October 2001, Durand collected $77 million ($28 million went to
taxes), his 14 percent share of the fine paid under the federal whistle-blower statute. He retired to Florida to be closer to his parents, but was still looking forward to the unpleasant task of having to testify against six TAP executives, some of whom had worked for him.

Case Questions

1. Analyze the ethical culture at TAP. Does the culture appear to be in alignment? Misalignment?

2. Based on the facts in the case, and what you have learned in Chapter 9, evaluate the culture change effort that Douglas Durand undertook. What cultural systems did he target in the culture change effort? What systems were missing, if any?

3. Why did his culture change effort fail? What would it take for it to succeed?

Solution Summary

By exploring the questions, this solution examines the case concerning the symptoms and root causes of an unethical culture in need of change at Tap Pharmaceutical.

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