Ethical decision making

6 Step Process For Ethical Decision Making: A Guide with Examples

Ethical decision making is determining the ethicality of a decision, action, or course of action and weighing ethical considerations against ethical principles and personal values. For example, decisions are not moral if motivated by profit or other interests rather than principles such as honesty, fairness, or respect for others.

To make ethical decisions, it helps to understand ethical decision-making. There are many different models for ethical decision making. Most revolve around five principles: fairness, impartiality, voluntaryism/non-interference (or non-aggression), respect for rights and welfare, and the common good. But what do these principles mean? And how can you use them in decision-making? In this blog post, we will tell you all about it.

First, we’ll introduce the five principles of ethical decision making, and then we’ll give you an extensive guide on how to make ethical decisions based on these principles.

What is ethical decision making?

Ethical decision making is evaluating and choosing alternatives consistent with ethical principles and values. This involves considering moral obligations, individual rights and responsibilities, fairness, and the common good and balancing these considerations to determine the best course of action. The goal of ethical decision making is to make morally right and just decisions rather than simply focusing on personal gain or self-interest. 

Why do we need to make ethical decisions?

Ethical decision making is essential for several reasons.

1. Promotes moral behavior: Ethical decision making promotes moral behavior by encouraging individuals and organizations to consider the ethical implications of their actions and to act in accordance with principles of right and wrong.

2. Protects the rights and interests of others: Ethical decision making helps to protect the rights and interests of others by ensuring that individuals and organizations do not engage in actions that cause harm or violate the rights of others.

3. Maintains public trust: Ethical decision making helps to maintain public confidence by demonstrating that individuals and organizations are committed to doing what is right rather than just what is profitable or convenient.

4. Enhances reputation: Ethical decision making enhances the importance of individuals and organizations by demonstrating a commitment to high ethical standards and values.

5. Facilitates decision-making: Ethical decision making can facilitate decision-making by providing a clear framework for evaluating different options and determining the best course of action.

6. Promotes long-term success: Ethical decision making can promote long-term success by establishing a positive reputation, fostering trust, and avoiding costly legal or reputational consequences.

Here are 8 tips that you should follow if you aim to become an ethical manager!

6 Steps of Ethical Decision Making

Ethical decision making is a systematic approach to evaluating and choosing among different options in a manner consistent with ethical principles and values.

Ethical decision makind
The steps are: 

1. Identifying the problem: This involves clearly defining the ethical issue or dilemma and gathering relevant information. It is vital to gather as much information as possible about the situation and the people involved to make an informed decision.

2. Clarifying values and ethical principles: This involves understanding personal and societal values and ethical principles relevant to the situation. It is essential to consider the impact of different decisions on all stakeholders and identify the moral obligations and ethical considerations pertinent to the situation.

3. Generating alternatives: This involves coming up with a range of possible solutions or options for addressing the problem. It is essential to consider various options, including those that may take time to be noticeable.

4. Evaluating alternatives: This involves evaluating each option using a set of ethical criteria, such as the impact on stakeholders, the alignment with moral obligations and values, and the overall fairness and justice of the solution. It is essential to consider each option’s ethical implications and weigh the pros and cons of each decision.

5. Making a decision: Based on the evaluation, a decision is made about the best course of action. This decision should be well-reasoned and consistent with ethical principles and values. It is crucial to consider the potential consequences of different decisions and to choose a course of action that is consistent with one’s values and ethical principles.

6. Implementing and monitoring the decision: The final step is to implement the decision and monitor its impact over time to ensure it remains consistent with ethical considerations. It is essential to evaluate the decision’s effectiveness and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the decision remains consistent with ethical principles and values.

Throughout this process, it is vital to maintain an open and honest dialogue, consider multiple perspectives, and reflect on the ethical implications of each decision. Ethical decision making requires careful consideration and a commitment to doing what is right rather than just what is convenient or profitable.

Check out “10 Effective Techniques To Master Problem Solving And Decision Making Skills

Example of Ethical Decision Making for a Manager Based on the Steps outlined above:

1. Identifying the problem: A manager at a manufacturing company has been informed that one of the raw materials suppliers has been using child labor.

2. Clarifying values and ethical principles: The manager realizes that the company has a strict policy against child labor and is also against the company’s culture and values of promoting fair and honest business practices.

3. Generating alternatives: The manager considers several options, such as switching to a different supplier, working with the current supplier to improve their labor practices, or discontinuing the use of the raw materials altogether.

4. Evaluating alternatives: The manager evaluates each option based on their impact on the children involved, the company’s reputation, and the potential financial implications. The manager also considers the company’s commitment to promoting fair and ethical business practices and the impact on other stakeholders, such as customers and employees.

5. Making a decision: The manager decides to discontinue using the raw materials from the supplier and to look for a new supplier that adheres to the company’s strict standards against child labor.

6. Implementing and monitoring the decision: The manager implements the decision by informing the relevant departments and finding a new supplier. The manager also monitors the situation to ensure that the new supplier is not using child labor and that the decision remains consistent with the company’s ethical standards.

This example shows how a manager can use ethical decision making steps to address a moral dilemma consistent with their values and ethical principles. It demonstrates the importance of considering multiple options, evaluating the impact of each decision on different stakeholders, and taking action that aligns with the company’s values and commitments.

Here is how mental models help in effective decision making as a manager!

3 Ethical Decision Making Examples in the Workplace

1. The Confidential Data Dilemma

Imagine you’re a project manager working on a high-stakes project. You discover a team member unintentionally left a folder containing sensitive client information on a shared computer. You’re faced with deciding whether to access the folder and review the data to ensure security. Ethical decision-making prompts you to consider your obligation to protect client privacy. You resist the urge to look and instead notify the team member, showing your commitment to ethical principles and trust within the team.

2. The Budget Crunch Call: 

You’re a department head responsible for allocating the annual budget. There’s immense pressure to cut costs this year, and you’re aware that reducing employee training funds would help meet the budget target. However, investing in employee development is crucial for their growth and the company’s long-term success. Ethical decision-making guides you to prioritize the development of your team, even if it means finding alternative ways to make the budget work.

3. The Whistleblower’s Crossroads: 

Picture yourself as a senior executive in a large corporation. An employee approaches you with evidence of potential financial misconduct within the company. You’re torn between addressing the issue internally to protect the company’s reputation or reporting it externally to ensure transparency and accountability. Ethical decision-making encourages you to put the values of honesty and integrity above all else. You decide to initiate an internal investigation while providing the whistleblower’s protection.

5 Approaches of Ethical Decision Making

1. Utilitarianism: Maximizing Happiness 

Utilitarianism encourages decisions that result in the greatest overall happiness for the majority. In a workplace context, this means considering the well-being of both employees and stakeholders when making choices.

Imagine your company is deciding whether to adopt a new cost-cutting strategy that could lead to layoffs. A utilitarian approach would involve weighing the potential benefits of preserving the company’s financial health against the negative impact on employees’ livelihoods.

2. Deontology: Upholding Moral Rules 

Deontology focuses on following moral rules and principles, regardless of the consequences. It’s about doing what’s right based on established ethical standards.

As a manager, if you discover an employee has made a mistake that could harm the team’s project, a deontological perspective would mean addressing the issue transparently and finding a solution, even if it might initially cause discomfort.

3. Virtue Ethics: Building Good Character 

Virtue ethics emphasizes cultivating positive character traits in individuals. This involves nurturing a culture of integrity, empathy, and collaboration in the workplace.

A leader who consistently demonstrates empathy and actively listens to their team members helps build a virtuous workplace environment that values open communication and mutual respect.

4. Justice: Fairness and Equity 

Justice in the workplace involves treating employees and colleagues fairly and equitably, ensuring everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources.

During promotions, a just manager considers employees’ skills and contributions rather than favoritism, ensuring that deserving individuals are recognized and rewarded.

5. Rights-Based Ethics: Protecting Individual Rights 

This principle focuses on upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals in the workplace, even when making challenging decisions.

If implementing a new monitoring system, a rights-based leader would ensure that employees’ privacy is respected by implementing transparent policies and safeguards.


Ethical decision making is a challenging process. While there are many ethical decision-making frameworks, each person must choose the one that best fits their values and situation and still be able to understand how it works in practice. This decision-making process is dynamic and ever-changing, so it is essential to keep learning about ethical decision making principles and models. It’s also helpful to remember ethics is a personal subject that belongs to each individual.

In addition, ethical decision making requires making ethical decisions (such as through ethical thinking and action) while considering the values of other people involved in the decision-making process (for example, by considering the needs of others or the consequences of unethical decisions).

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