Paula Sowell has a Master's degree in applied sociology and for the
past 8 years she has worked in a research center where she has
progressed from a data entry clerk to a position of project manager for
an important long-term study undertaken by the center. Her immediate
supervisor, Sharon Trusdell, the director of the research center, is a
Ph.D. in sociology who oversees Paula's work. Her supervisor is
confident in Paula's ability to manage the project on a daily basis and
work with the technical experts who are responsible for research
design, instrumentation, and data analysis. However, on numerous
occasions, Paula and the center director have had serious disagreements
over the parameters of Paula's work. These conflicts are primarily due
to a "personality conflict" between Paula and her supervisor, rather
than a serious question about Paula's ability, although on numerous
occasions, the center director has threatened to "fire" Paula for
insignificant differences of opinion.
Becoming dissatisfied with the working environment, Paula decides to
return to school to further her education and eventually work in a
higher level position elsewhere. She applies to schools in January and
knows by spring that she will be attending graduate school in the fall.
Although Paula knows there is no one within the research center who can
immediately take over her duties and that the project she manages will
be at a critical stage for completing a final report, she doesn't feel
she can inform the center director of her impending departure early on
(i.e., in the spring). Paula realizes that if she informs the center
director too early, her replacement might be hired and she could be
without a job for a number of months before she begins school in the
fall. Moreover, there could be a number of other negative repercussions
because of their past history. Instead, she "gives notice" two weeks
prior to her departure, which is what most jobs require.
1. What ethical dilemma does Paula face when she
decides the timing of his "notice" to resign from the research center?
2. Is Paula's decision to give only a two week notice
appropriate? Justify your answer.
3. Even if Paula's two week notice did not violate
organizational policies, are there other ways she could have handled
her resignation so that the negative impact on the center could have
Reflect on the above questions and form your
own answers before clicking the Discussion
key to review the commentary provided with this case.
Although Paula has been promoted to higher ranks, given more
responsibility, and had increases in pay over the years, interaction
with the center director has been particularly difficult. On many
occasions, the director has been verbally abusive and undermined her
authority with the workers she manages. Because of these problems,
Paula did not feel any obligation to give an earlier notice of her
impending departure. Paula does have the right to protect her
livelihood and she did give two week's notice to the center which is
what most jobs require.
On the other hand, Paula knows that she has a responsibility to fulfill
her commitments, particularly when others are counting on her. If she
leaves before a replacement is hired, it will present numerous
difficulties for the research center. The center's completion of the
final report could be delayed and they would have problems to hire and
orient a new person within the two week period.
Personal integrity, honoring commitments, and living up to obligations
are important standards to uphold. People expect this from
professionals in an employment situation. Paula must recognize the
importance of fulfilling one's obligations, particularly when not doing
so can result in significant negative impact on someone (or an
organization). Paula can take steps to reduce the negative impact, but
it would require that she give earlier notice to the center
director--perhaps a month. It would also necessitate that she spend the
time putting everything in order and preparing the important
documentation for the new project manager. In this way, the transition
would be easier. If she has major responsibilities for the final
report, Paula should also take steps to complete this prior to her
departure, or leave it in a shape that it can be easily completed by
the new manager. If the new manager is hired while Paula is still
there, she can take the necessary time to orient the new employee. If
feasible, Paula can also be accessible to the new manager, after she
leaves, to answer questions. Depending on the situation, Paula might
also offer to work part-time, or on a consultant basis, while the new
manager gets oriented and the final report is completed.
This case also points to the ethical obligations of an employer, as
well as an employee. An employer who treats his/her employees fairly
and maintains a good working relationship with them is likely to have
this behavior reciprocated.