I have recently read somewhere a case study on business ethics which described the predicament of a branch head who was told by her seniors about their strategic decision to close down that branch office in about three months’ time, absorb her and a couple of her deputies in the head office and retrench every one else. Since keeping the decision secret was of paramount importance for the company, she was specifically prohibited from letting anyone know of it. The staff at the branch, who were in touch with the employees’ union, heard a rumor about the impending closure of their outfit and asked their boss about the truth in the matter. If they were to receive the pink slips shortly they would immediately clamp down on their non-essential expenses and, more importantly, make efforts to look for alternative employment avenues. What should the branch manager have done? Her staff had served her well, the unit had been making profits consistently and the growth rate was also good. It was, however, the corporate office’s idea to give up the territory in favour of a competitor, who would do the same thing for it in another region of the country. On the other hand how could she violate the clear order not to share the secret?
I do not know what course of action she adopted but how would have I faced the situation had I been in her place (Case A)? Or suppose I was made privy to the decision but not told to keep quite about it (Case B). Or I too had only heard a rumor about the imminent closure (Case C).
Taking up Case C first, I would check up with the corporate office and if they denied any plan for closure, I would immediately advise the staff accordingly, restoring the peace. If, however, they confirmed the substance of the rumor, the situation would be as either in Case A or in Case B.
Now Case B, on the staff asking me about the rumored decision I would ask my superiors for permission to share the information with my staff. If I got it, I would confirm to the staff. If not, it would be Case A.
Finally Case A, my sympathies with the staff notwithstanding, I would not go against the order and would have to tell them that there was no truth in the rumor. But after that it would be difficult for me to continue in an organisation which was not transparently honest even with its own people. I would plan an early exit.