- Summary: Hospitality Ethics: Responses from Human Resource Directors and Students to Seven Ethical Scenarios by Betsy Stevens:
This journal article is a study of the responses obtained from HR directors and hospitality students to a series of seven fictitious ethical scenarios, based on ratings according to a five-point Likert scale, ranging from “very ethical” to “very unethical”. The seven scenarios (as detailed in Appendix A to the article) are as follows (Stevens, 2001):
Scenario 1: Racial Preference. Two examples are described. In the first example a Middle Eastern client refuses to be served by any African American personnel. The second example cites the reverse situation; i.e. that all staff for a banquet must be African American. In both cases hotel management acceded to the requests.
Scenario 2: Bellman Stripper. An off-duty bellman is paid $100 to pretend – as a joke on a fellow guest – to be a male stripper. The bellman is subsequently fired for doing it.
Scenario 3: False Accusation. It transpires that the verbal harassment of a dishwasher colleague by a kitchen worker had not been witnessed by other employees, and that the accuser held a grudge against the dishwasher concerned, implying that the accusation was false.
Scenario 4: Keeping Gifts. Normal hotel policy is that gifts accepted and received are to the hotel, not the individual, and should be shared. In the examples given, a sales director is given a free trip to Hawaii, another individual receives a case of wine, and yet another is given soaps and bath oils.
Scenario 5: Proprietary Information. In the example given, a woman calls a friend and former colleague to obtain information from her company – a request that had been formally declined by the friend’s management.
Scenario 6: Keeping Cash. The scenario example is restaurant employees taking cash payments from buffet brunch customers but not ringing up the sale.
Scenario 7: Sticker Incident. This scenario involves an employee abusing a system in which employees reward each other for being nice by placing issued stickers on the other person. In the example cited, an employee offers one to a female colleague saying: “This is great - I get to touch your breasts" (Stevens, 2001).
An overview of the study findings is that theft (stealing money by not ringing up a sale) was the most unethical act, and second was attempting to obtain confidential information from another company, followed in third place by the so-called “sticker” incident (categorised as sexual harassment). Fourth was the act of selecting servers according to their race. Next came making a false accusation against another employee, then paying a hotel bellman to pretend to be a male stripper. That was followed in seventh and final place by accepting personal gifts – contrary to the general policy of sharing all gifts received.
The “keeping cash” scenario was voted as the most unethical of the seven scenarios by 97 percent of all the 165 respondents (84 directors and 81 students), and ranked in first place by both HR directors and students. However, when analysing the responses separately (HR directors and students) the rankings of the other scenarios varied, except for scenario 4 – accepting and keeping gifts, where there was also agreement between the two groups, placing that scenario lowest, i.e. least unethical.
The following Table (extracted / reproduced from Exhibits 1 and 4 of the article) shows the rankings in order of the most unethical for each scenario discussed:
The study found that the directors generally viewed the various scenarios as more unethical than the students, which the author considers is because they have greater awareness of the potential implications than the students, and that the students – due either to their limited work experience or to their differing cultural backgrounds – may not perceive some scenarios as so serious.
Comparing the responses of the two groups to each of the seven scenarios:
Racial Preference (1): There was significant difference in the ranking of this scenario. Three quarters of the directors found this “very unethical”, whereas just 30 percent of the student respondents assigned it that rating. The study author suggests that the difference might arise from the students lacking “real world” experience and because many of them come from countries where racial discrimination is not uncommon and is less frowned upon (Stevens, 2001).
Bellman Stripper (2): The directors again viewed this incident as more serious than did the student respondents. The study author considers various reasons for the students’ more relaxed view. Those include a more tolerant attitude to stripping as a practice and a feeling that what an employee does in his free time is own business, or that doing something relatively harmless to earn $100 is OK. Further, it is possible that students showed greater appreciation for the humour involved.
False Accusation (3): Again, the directors viewed this as more serious than did the students, who perhaps have considered the incident on the basis of the accuser being innocent until proved otherwise. However, it does have other implications that the students may not have considered fully.
Accepting and Keeping Gifts (4): Both groups saw this as the least unethical of the seven scenarios. In the case of the students, it may be that because in the scenario the individual sought the manager’s permission, they saw that as the most important fact.
Proprietary Information (5): The two groups were in general agreement on the ranking of this scenario, viewing the action as not only unethical, but potentially placing a friend at risk of losing their own job.
Keeping Cash (6): This scenario was rated as the most unethical of the seven by both groups – around 97 percent of the study respondents having rated it as “very unethical.” As it was clearly an act of theft, which could be punished by prosecuting the offender(s) and terminating their employment, defining it as seriously unethical was virtually a given (Stevens, 2001).
Sticker Incident (7): This scenario was determined to be very unethical by almost 90 percent of directors but by less than 50 percent of the student respondents. Stevens considers this marked difference to arise from a combination of a lack of work experience on the part of the students and the awareness of the directors of the potential seriousness of sexual harassment incidents and the importance of countering actions by one worker that attack the dignity of another.
Considering the study overall, the author concedes that it was limited in its scope, partly because the student respondents were all from the same hotel school, and partly because the range of ethical scenarios probably represented a restricted range of the ethical issues faced by hospitality managers in real life situations. She also notes that hospitality employees feel that communication about ethical issues within their organization is poor and that opportunities to discuss such issues with management are rare.
- Personal Judgements of the Seven Scenarios:
In this section, I have tried in reaching my judgements and thereby ordering the scenarios to view the scenarios from neither the particular perspective of an employer nor an employee. I have ordered them from the most unethical to the least unethical:
Keeping Cash (6): I agree with the majority of the study respondents Keeping the cash was clearly an act of theft, therefore it must be considered as the most seriously unethical of the seven scenarios.
Sticker Incident (7): This scenario highlights the potential seriousness of sexual harassment incidents and the importance of countering actions by one worker which attack the dignity of another. Slander also comes into the equation.
Racial Preference (1): This scenario obviously indicates a contravention of racial equality and discrimination policies and is therefore unethical; perhaps more so because in both examples it was perpetrated by management.
False Accusation (3): A seriously unethical situation in any environment, not just in the hospitality industry. The effects can be mitigated if properly dealt with by management.
Proprietary Information (5): This action is not simply unethical, but is made worse by potentially placing a friend at risk of losing their own job.
Bellman Stripper (2): Whilst this scenario describes an incident clearly contravening hotel policy, the seriousness is lessened because the employee was off duty and did not totally strip off all his clothes.
Accepting and Keeping Gifts (4): Because the individual described in this scenario sought permission from management to accept the gift, the breach of ethicality should perhaps be shared by the manager concerned, making it the least unethical of the seven scenarios.
Stevens, Betsy. (2001). “Hospitality Ethics: Responses from Human Resource Directors and Students to Seven Ethical Scenarios.” Journal of Business Ethics 30: 233-242, 2001. Kluvier Academic Publishers, The Netherlands. Print.