There are three major ethical approaches that managers might use in making an ethical choice - a utilitarian or consequence approach, a negative or positive rights approach, or a virtue-based ethical reasoning approach. Here is a description of the three approaches and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Using a Utilitarian or Consequence-Based Approach

A utilitarian or consequence-based manager would look at the possible choices for taking a certain action in light of the results of doing one thing versus another. For example, suppose that the manager could earn extra money from fees or contributions from patrons from putting on a certain program or that the city is offering to sponsor a recreational sports program like boxing, but the program would negatively impact a small group of people in the neighbourhood who would risk damage to their property from attendees or a high level of noise during the activity.

Also, there might be a risk of injury to some of the players participating, though they would have to sign waivers that they are assuming the responsibility for any injury. In the consequence-based approach, the manager would look at this event from a cost-benefits perspective and decide that most people in the community would enjoy this activity and that the organization would make more money from offering the program, and would have little financial risk due to injuries because of the waivers signed by participants. The manager would also dismiss the neighbours complaining about possible property damage and noise, since this would seem to be of lesser concern compared to the popularity of and income from the event.

The advantage of operating as a utilitarian manager is it might bring in more money and provide a popular form of entertainment that draws a large crowd. Also, the manager might be correct in weighing the potential risk of damage or injury against the potential financial gain from the event, as well as the possibility of bringing in new member of the organization from attendees. However, the disadvantage is that this approach disregards the rights of the minority who don't want the event - the neighbours who will be negatively impacted by it.

Another disadvantage is that the manager using this approach might under estimate the negative costs of the event, in that the angry neighbours might sue for property damage or for damages due to the high noise level in a residential neighbourhood, leading to a costly suit the organization might lose.

Secondly, there could be injuries not only to participants but to spectators at the event, and the participants might be able to set aside any waiver they signed by making good legal arguments, such as being underage or feeling coerced to participate. Another disadvantage is that this cost-benefits approach might result in negative publicity for the organization and the city, as a result of the press highlighting the plight of the neighbours or the potential injury of the participants, and presenting the organization as being unconcerned about the interests of the community members.


Using a Negative or Positive Rights Approach

A manager using negative or positive rights as a basis for decisions using the deontological ethics model or rule-based ethics would take into consideration whether he or she has a duty or obligation to act or not act in a certain way. Based on positive rights, the manager would have a duty to take certain action to others, whereas based on negative rights, the manager would have a duty to not take any action. The chosen action to take would in turn be influenced by whether an individual has certain rights as a human being, such as the right to be treated fairly, or due to the individual's status in society, such as the right not to be discriminated against because of that person's race, or age.

A manager might be confronted by such a decision in a recreational program which is designed to appeal to individuals of all sexes and ages in the community who pay a monthly or yearly membership fee or pay for each event or class they attend. However, the manager may find that some of the community members have difficulty participating in some of the classes, because they lack some basic skills, such as using a computer; have a disability making it hard to participate in exercise classes; or have financial difficulties preventing them from enrolling in classes or paying for a monthly or yearly membership. Using the negative or positive rights model, the manager would have to decide if he or she has any special obligation to accommodate the community members who have a difficulty accessing the programs and if any obligations take priority.

The advantage of this model is it would help the manager determine if he or she has any special obligation to those who are disadvantaged from participating in the program, and this analysis might show that he or she can make some reasonable accommodations to help the disadvantaged person, but otherwise has no further obligation, since this is a voluntary program which is available to those who wish to participate. However, individuals don't have to participate, such as might be the case if this was a school. Also, relieving the manager of a special duty of care is that center is supported by the fees of participants rather than being funded as a government agency and therefore taxpayers' money. Thus, since the center depends on the fees of participants, the manager is driven by putting on programs that are supported by those fees. For example, if there is sufficient interest, the manager might add a class on basic computer skills; a special exercise class for those with a disability; or create a program where those with financial difficulties could volunteer to help the center in return for reduced fees or no fees. But the manager has no special obligation to offer those activities without financial support. Accordingly, if there wasn't enough interest to make it financially feasible to add these programs, the center would have no duty or obligation to provide them.

The disadvantage of this approach is that it might leave those who don't have the ability or the funds unable to participate in programs at the center and they might feel it unfair. Should enough of them feel this way, this could lead to individual or class action lawsuits to require the organization provide an opportunity to participate. But in this situation, I think the center would prevail, since it has no obligation to provide these extra services if it determines there is not enough interest to warrant adding them, since it has an obligation to its owners or shareholders to continue to make a profit in order to sustain itself as an organization and continue to provide the recreational services it does.


Using the Virtue-Based Ethical Reasoning Approach

A manager using virtue-based ethical reasoning to make decisions would do so based on the kind of person s/he is or how s/he thinks of him or herself in the manager role. While such a manager might want to look at the rules or code of ethics for the organization or might want to consider the costs and benefits of a certain action, the manager would also want to make a decision in keeping with his or her conscience or sense of acting with integrity. In so doing, he or she would want to do what seems like the "right" thing to do in light of the circumstances, which might take into consideration the ethical teachings of his or her religious faith, particularly if the manager is working with a faith based organization, such as a church, temple, or mosque, that provides recreational activities to its members.

An example of using virtue-based ethical reasoning might occur if a manager of a recreational program for kids has to deal with a problem of bullying, where a stronger child is bullying another child in the program, so that the younger, weaker child is afraid to continue to participate and his parents are concerned. At the same time, the child who is the bully is the son of a prominent family in the community who are contributors to the program and don't recognize the problem. If the manager used a utilitarian cost-benefits approach to deciding what to do, he or she might tend to support the prominent family and tell the family of the weaker child that he can drop out of the program or participate in a different program where he won't have to confront the child he is afraid of. If the manager used a rule based on rights by status approach, he or she might side with the parents of the younger weaker child and prevent the bully from coming to the program, because he has disobeyed the rules about bullying, regardless of any repercussions from the parents.

However, if the manager uses a virtue-based approach, he or she might take steps to find a solution that reconciles the relationships between everyone based on his or her beliefs about what is the right thing to do. For instance, he or she might draw on his or her faith that preaches understanding and forgiveness to bring everyone together to have a discussion about the problem. Such a discussion might include both children and their parents, and he or she might create a safe space where everyone feels free to share. The weaker child might talk about how he feels afraid, while the bully might talk about his reasons for bullying, that could include feeling bullied by other children and feeling he has to prove himself. Then, the manager might talk about the importance of forgiveness and how he or she would like to promote understanding, so the children could get along, and their parents could help them do so.

The advantage of using this virtue-based approach to choose a discussion of the problem in a spirit of forgiveness is this discussion would help to bring out the issues and bring the people involved closer together. It would creates a spirit of unity, in which everyone can work together to resolve the problem, much like when a mediator brings together parties in conflict and facilitates them solving the problem, rather than imposing a solution or taking sides based on the two other ethical principles.


However, a disadvantage of this approach is that in some cases, such as this, it can take much longer to reach a decision, much like the collaboration method of resolving a conflict, if the manager thinks the ethical thing to do is to bring together all the parties to work towards forgiveness. Another disadvantage of the approach in this case is that the parties involved in the difficult situation may not want to meet together to work towards a solution, or if the parties do meet, they may not feel comfortable talking through the situation and working towards understanding or forgiveness. Then, too, because it may take more time to reach a decision, the use of this approach could prove more costly to the organization due to the staff time involved in having meetings to jointly achieve a resolution. However, I think where warranted, this kind of discussion resulting from applying a virtue-based approach is a good approach to use, because it can reach a fairer, more equitable resolution that all parties can agree on, because they have been part of the resolution process.


Views presented here are that of the author of this article.