You are a mid-level manager with the regional public health department. You recently have been given the commanding post at a large urban branch of the State Health Department. You have 15 years’ experience in the public health services with many of those years in management roles. However, the situation you find at this branch surprises and baffles you. Morale among the public health officers is extremely low. Several officers are off on long-term stress leave. Serving a high crime area with a large minority population, the officers in this branch often face challenging calls that also receive substantial press coverage.
However, you sense that the problems run deeper than work overload or negative media attention. You notice that some of the male officers are noticeably disrespectful of their female colleagues. You also sense a good deal of animosity among some officers. Two in particular won’t even work on the same shift. But you get the feeling that the problems go deeper than too much work or bad press. You can tell that some of the male officers treat their female coworkers in a rude way. You can also tell that some officers don’t like each other very much. Even worse, two of them won’t even work the same shift. After doing some research, you find out that one of the two officers in question has accused the other of harassing him or her. With some digging around, you find that one of the two officers in question has alleged harassment from another officer. You also see that the officers of different races do not talk to each other except in an official capacity.
You know that the manager who previously had command of the branch took an autocratic approach to leadership and didn’t get involved with interpersonal aspects of the workplace. You see that your employees are suffering and you want to reach out to them and help improve the situation. You and your partner hosted a potluck for all the officers at your home, but only a few showed up.
1. Why do you see this as an ethical challenge? What specific values are in play?
2. Thinking beyond the immediate situation and individuals involved, who else was impacted? What could the long term consequences be?
3. What process would you take to begin to deal with the situation?
4. How could the professional code of public health guide you? What does the code say about public health institution employees?
5. How did you feel in the moment while initially reading the case?
6. After answering the questions has your perspective changed?