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  • Ana Beatriz Azevedo e Cecília Furtado

Ethics in Human Resources Management

In traditional ethics there is a lack of books and articles discussing it in details, and that is partly responsible for the fact that many teachers and many authors believe that ethics is no more than “an airing of opinions”. They also don’t believe that ethical theory could help solve complex issues, because there is no consensus in the method which to be used. This can be account to the fact that there is a deeply set antagonism in ethics in management, because there is not an unified theory. There is a “battle” between two methods: the utilitarian and the formalist methods. Another aspect that contributes to the disregard of ethics as an important asset in management is the belief that managing is an art, and not something that should be studied.

There is also a belief that these two methods cannot work together, that there is no possible way for them to be used together to achieve better results. This gives ethics in management an overwhelmingly analytic aspect, rendering it as very procedure oriented. The traditional way of comprehending ethics didn’t stay intact for long. With changes in society, culture and organizations emerged a new way of seeing ethics, brought after a period of time in which the existential writers such as Nietzsche and Sartre challenged this limited point of view. With so the aspects of human awareness broaded itself and became part of the way Ethics was seen.

Through these authors views and other aspects that were being brought up, two new forms of knowing were differentiated: knowing that and knowing how. Knowing that would be the more analytic way of seeing a situation, whilst judging it based on facts and rules. Knowing how, on the other hand, was a more holistic and subjective way of seeing a situation. Those two could be used interchangeably and together, to create a better response to many ethical dilemmas.

In this second moment and point of view of the Ethical knowledge it becomes clear that we need to see the questions, situations and problems with a more holistic perception, trying to escape a little from how business ethics is seen as a procedure-oriented and analytic thing. The rational aspects can become spiritual, the obsession with details can make way for a more flexible way of thinking, standardization can open up for diversity in organizations, and so on. But how can all that be done without abusing the rules? That’s a really important dilemma faced by administrators, who now face the challenge of trying to balance the two forms of knowing, not only in a way that they have to know when to use one of them instead of the other but also knowing how to connect them.

To understand it in a practical way imagined one of your employees gets to work two hours late and tells your their kid has a fever and that's why they’re late. Do you punish them because that’s the company’s policy and you have to abide by the rules? Do you understand the situation and let it go? Do you check their records to see if normally they’re on time to help with your decision making process? Being Ethical is complex and that’s why it has to be seen and studied as so.

This incredibly hard task to balance the forms of thinking and connecting them is what makes ethics an artful thing, accomplishing the aesthetic of managing ethics. That promotes not only a more holistic view of situations but it helps to overcome the traditional dichotomy and divergences between the formalist and utilitarian ethics. The traditional notions of “right” and “wrong” turn into “beautiful” and “ugly”, transforming Ethics in art, helping the artful task that is managing well.

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