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Ethical Dilemmas—Then and Now

January 1, 1997
Related Topics: Ethics, Featured Article
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1920s
When are workers most stressed?
The amount of fatigue during the week varies with the skill of the worker. In the boot and shoe industry, for example, the most expert operative’s record was found to rise throughout the week, whereas in some instances the poorer workers began to fall from Wednesday or even earlier onwards. The influence of fatigue may be masked by spurts. Thus, in silk weaving, the best output occurs between Thursday morning and Friday noon, which is the “making up time” for calculating the wages to be paid on the week’s work.
Charles S. Myers, director
National Institute of Industrial
Psychology of Great Britain
“The Study of Fatigue”
Journal of Personnel Research
January 1925

Equal pay for equal work?
In a survey of a rubber company in Akron, Ohio, “at least 17 percent of the absenteeism of the women office employees was caused by ailments peculiar to women only: dysmenorrhea and ovarian congestion. It was noted that absenteeism for both men and women was less on pay days than other days. In one case, 50 employees were absent the day before pay day and only six were absent on pay day. Women may be intellectually competent to undertake any and all vocations, but the officials of this particular company decided that salaried women employees do not deserve the same pay as men even when they hold the same kinds of positions.”
Harry Walker Hepner, contributingwriter
Syracuse University
Syracuse, N.Y.“Absenteeism of Women Office Employees”
Journal of Personnel Research
April 1925

1930s
To test or not to test?
Tests are not cabalistic divining rods. They are merely objective applications of our everyday common-sense approach, in which we use a sample of an individual’s behavior as an illustration of what his or her later behavior is likely to be in the job situation. Every employment interviewer observes an applicant’s behavior with this end in view. Any such representative task or situation, which may be used to predict, roughly or accurately, the way in which the individual will do the work represented, is a “psychological test.”
Garret L. Bergen, contributing writer
The Adjustment Service
New York City
“The Practical Use of Tests”
The Personnel Journal
July 1934

Why are workers dying?
The evidence with regard to tuberculosis, the second highest cause of death to the working population, is complicated and baffling. What with improvements in sanitation, housing and treatment, and changes in the general economic conditions of the people, it is impossible to calculate the extent to which the Machine Age is responsible for the white plague.
Frederick B. Flinn, contributing writer
Delarmar Institute of Public Health
“The Machine and Industrial Health”
The Personnel Journal
October 1934

1940s
How to improve wartime morale?
Most workers in both war industries and nonwar industries think their jobs important. (Even girls in beauty parlors justify their work on the grounds that women with fancy hair-dos help keep up national morale.) [Although] from one point of view this feeling is all right, particularly for workers in war industries, it creates a tremendous labor resistance to compulsory transfer of workers from nonessential jobs to war work. [Moreover], less than half of juvenile workers think their jobs important, even though on actual war jobs. There is a special need for improving the morale of juvenile workers, and getting them to feel the specific relation of their work to the war effort.
Charles S. Slocombe, managing editor
Personnel Journal
New York City
“People in War Production”

Personnel Journal
November 1943

Can personnel departments really help?
Prior to setting up a Personnel Department in companies of this type [200 to 1,000 employees], each Department Head was the Lord High Executioner of his or her private domain—setting his own policies, wage rates and working conditions with little thought given to the coordinating of policies with other departments in the organization; and if his morning toast was burnt, chop-chop-chop and someone’s head came off. [Thus] the first source of friction that a new Personnel Manager is likely to encounter, and one of the most difficult to overcome, is with these Department Heads who in most cases are old employees who resent relinquishing any of their former authority to a so-called newcomer into the organization.
J.T. Smith, contributing writer
Milford, Conn.
“Personnel Managers Beware”
Personnel Journal
February 1944

1950s
Is the coffee breaknecessary?

Companies agree that the coffee break is desirable, whether they provide for the refreshments or simply allow employees to find their own ways of getting it. Most of them, however, think the assets are intangible. Thirty-six of those questioned by the Field Research Division of the Paper Cup and Container Institute cite the promotion of a friendly feeling as the main advantage, while 24 think the office breaks may have some effect in reducing fatigue. Nine guessed that coffee breaks increased production, but even these were not very sure.
Caroline Bird Menuez, contributingWriter
Field Research Division of the Paper Cup and Container Institute
“Coffee in Offices”
Personnel Journal
May 1950

Does race impactself-worth?
The Negro industrial worker takes with him to his work a set of aspirations, a level of expectations, which is the product of the society in which he lives. As he remains in the plant, he tends to minimize the factor of race as a criterion for evaluating himself regarding his work. Depending on the racial policy of the company, his satisfaction with his work is affected accordingly. And such a principle suggests, further, that as a practical matter of personnel administration, workers can no longer be distributed in the plant on the basis of traditional community patterns of race relations; for these so-called traditional norms of the community are in chaos, in flux, rapid dissolution, change and reorganization.
Alvin W. Rose, contributing writer
North Carolina College
Durham, N.C.
“How Negro Workers Feel About Their Jobs”
Personnel Journal
January 1951

1960s
When does gender dictateemployee behavior?
Certain basics become obvious after many years of experience in selecting, training and working with all types of people. One is that men and women don’t change much, not as to fundamental qualities. They may cover up deficiencies for a while, but they usually revert to type. The man who was good in arithmetic in school will probably make a better invoice clerk than one who had poor grades. The hot-headed individual is apt to explode again and again; the flirtatious girl will continue to flaunt her charms. Good intentions don’t change natural characteristics, nor do they often overcome the grooves of habit.
Frank W. Gray, marketing consultant
Los Angeles, Calif.
“How To Size Up People?”
Personnel Journal
June 1963

Nail the cheaters?
Unqualified job holders who have secured their appointments dishonestly incur the disrespect of their peers not only for themselves, but for the ineffective personnel program that permits their selection and, by extension, the organization itself. It has been estimated that three cases of cheating probably go undetected for every case that is discovered. However, the real danger of cheating lies in what goes undiscovered. The cheater who is caught can be controlled or punished. Poorly controlled cheating, on the other hand, can wreak havoc to the best selection program.
Orman R. Wright Jr., supervisor of
technical services
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Frankfort, Ky.
“Cheating: How To Control It?”
Personnel Journal
October 1963

1970s
Are we giving enough benefits?
It’s an American tradition to grumble about wages, to laugh at the latest bawling-out the supervisor received, and to deride management as the symbol of much that is wrong with the country. Yet typical American workers appear to give little thought to the question of how much has been spent on their behalf by the company. It would come as a surprise to most workers, and to many managers, to learn that payments by companies for employee benefits now average more than $2,500 per year per employee.
Mathew W. Jewett, associate professor
Memphis State University
Memphis, Tenn.
Personnel Journal
January 1976

How to able the disabled?
Affirmative action requires you to seek out candidates from the various rehabilitation agencies within your community. This may be difficult with your other responsibilities. Success of your affirmative action ultimately depends on your ability to analyze job factors, adapt them to the worker and enhance his or her motivation to become productive. As one man has put it: “It can be done, it ought to be done. So do it.”
Frederick C. Dyer, consultant; Chevy
Chase, Md.
Chris W. Ford, associate editor,
Achievement; Sebring, Florida
“Training The Handicapped: Now It’s Their Turn for Affirmative Action”
Personnel Journal
April 1976

How can computers better help HR managers?
While the personnel function has obtained some relief from its paperwork burdens through use of the computer, it has obtained comparatively little aid from it in the area of planning and decision making. Generally, there is weak coordination between computer staffs and personnel staffs. One result of this is the lack of common plans about objectives regarding personnel systems. This problem is compounded by the fact that most computer technicians are not very sensitive to behavioral problems, and not adept in the roles of the social scientist.
Edward A. Tomeski, professor of management; B. Man Yoon, associate professor of management;
and George Stephenson, assistant professor management
Fordham University
New York City
“Computer-Related Challenges for Personnel Administrators”
Personnel Journal
June 1976

1980s
Who gains from social responsibility?
When management encourages an assembly line worker to give time and money to a cause she cares about, management is saying: “We know your life extends beyond this factory and beyond working just to stay alive. And we think that’s great; we respect your values, and we want to accommodate your efforts.” This sort of support can only increase employees’ loyalty to the company and, along with it, their desire to give a little more in return.
Melanie Lawrence, contributing writer
“Social Responsibility: How Companies Become Involved in Their Communities”
Personnel Journal
July 1982

1990s
AIDS—whose burden?
Refusing to yield to fear is one way to reduce its impact and ease the pain—and to benefit from the courage of Magic Johnson and other HIV-infected people.
Nancy L. Breuer, writer and
business consultant
Los Angeles
“AIDS Issues Haven’t Gone Away”
Personnel Journal
January 1992

Does spirituality matterat work?
Most of the people leading the spirit-at-work paradigm shift, or at least those nudging it along, say spirituality at work isn’t about believing in a particular religion, although many expressions of spirituality at work stem from various religious traditions—from Jewish faith to Hinduism to Christianity. It’s about taking a broader, more global view of the spiritual dimension, which may, for some, encompass their religious beliefs. For example, the spiritual concepts of balance, trust, harmony, communication, values, mission, honesty and cooperation come from religious traditions, but aren’t the sole byproduct of any one of them.
Jennifer J. Laabs, senior writer
Personnel Journal
Costa Mesa, Calif
“Balancing Spirituality and Work”
Personnel Journal
September 1995

Workforce, January 1997, Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 165-167

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