SSIT Newsletter

The Society on Social Implications of Technology publishes a monthly newsletter.

The SSIT newsletter hits member inboxes around the middle of each month.

Please contact the SSIT Newsletter Editor, Heather Love (Heather.Love@uwaterloo.ca) if you have a news item, SSIT-related update, volunteer opportunity, Call for Papers, award notice, or “Feature Article” idea for a future issue.

Submissions are due by the 1st of the month.

From our most recent issue:

Ethical Dilemma: On Being the Messenger

Submitted by Bruce Hunter

Early in my career, I served as a department head in a firm with just under 100 employees; this was a division of a larger organization based in another city. Shortly after a new manager was assigned to our firm, rumors began to circulate among staff members that our division was for sale. In response, the new manager held a general staff meeting to assure employees that such rumors were totally unfounded. I, however, knew otherwise: a friend at headquarters had confided that legal considerations required our division to be sold within a prescribed time. Thus, my dilemma began.

A few weeks later, while at lunch in a restaurant with two of my staff members, a well-known industry tycoon, for whom I had done consulting work, happened to pass by our table. He casually remarked, “Bruce, I almost bought your division last night.” I waved and smiled; he continued on his way, oblivious to the fact that he had just placed me in a very awkward situation.

Driving back to the office, I weighed the options. Must I alert the manager that his credibility has been compromised? Or should I do nothing and allow the inevitable story to circulate? I could ask my staff members for their silence, but asking them to support misinformation without any certainty the episode could be contained seemed wrong. I considered that if I did nothing and the matter surfaced, I might respond, “You assured us the division was not for sale, thus I assumed the tycoon had simply heard the rumor and was joking,” but that also seemed unethical.

By the time I reached the office, I had decided the only ethical path was to inform the manager, even though the chemistry between us had not been very good. Unsurprisingly, he was visibly upset. A few hours later, he called a general staff meeting to acknowledge the facility was for sale. He placed severe restrictions on employees’ attendance and announced that any employee who left before a sale took place would forfeit severance payments.

In the months that followed, I questioned the wisdom of my decision. Instead of bestowing his thanks, the angry manager made my life difficult by sending multiple memoranda, on nearly a daily basis, critical of me and my department.

I survived the sale, appreciating the challenge of balancing ethics and self-interest, having learned it is best to avoid being the bearer of bad news. Yet, while unpleasant at the time, this experience helped make me a better manager. It taught me the danger of using misinformation as a management tool, irrespective of ethical considerations; and it made me see the value of maintaining a work environment where employees are comfortable coming forward with important information, even when it is unfavorable to me or the organization.

 

This ethical dilemma account is part of an ongoing initiative between the IEEE’s SSIT and Life Members Committee (LMC). If you have an experience that involved navigating an ethical dilemma as part of your professional life, we invite you to consider sharing it with your colleagues through the SSIT or LMC newsletters.

A joint SSIT/LMC committee will vet all initial submissions, and authors will work with the editors of the two publications to finalize their submissions. Accepted Ethical Dilemma articles will be published simultaneously in the June and December issues of both newsletters.

Article submissions must be between 300 and 500 words in Microsoft Word format. The IEEE Legal Department requires that all articles be fully sanitized to protect the privacy of people and organizations. Please submit manuscripts to Rosann Marosy at r.marosy@ieee.org.

 

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