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Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work

Free Activity: Ethical Polling


  • This activity runs more smoothly if you prepare a Summary Sheet in advance, preferably on a flipchart page or a whiteboard. See below for an example.
  • You will need help displaying the results of this activity. Identify a participant in advance who can help you quickly, accurately and legibly tabulate the responses on the flipchart sheet that you have prepared.

Introduce Activity/Give Instructions

Pass out the Handout and Scoring Sheet to each participant.

REVIEW the instructions on the Handout, and explain that their opinions—the way they label the behaviors— will be anonymously collected, summarized and then discussed with the group.

The Handout asks what category each of 20 behaviors belongs to:
Clearly ethical, clearly unethical, or some shade of gray.

ALLOW participants 5 – 6 minutes to work through the list and categorize each of the behaviors as E, L, M, D, or U.

Once participants have finished filling out the Handout, direct them to summarize their own results on the Scoring Sheet.  Participants should not write their names on this scoring sheet when they turn it in to the facilitator.

ALSO MAKE SURE participants understand that they are to list the actual numbers of the items in the boxes, rather than a count of how many items they labeled in each category.  (This makes it possible to tabulate the responses.)

Sample Summary Sheet: Flipchart/Whiteboard

In advance of the session or while participants are working on their Handouts, prepare your whiteboard or flipchart page to display a summary of the data.

Directions: Set up a flipchart sheet or whiteboard as shown below (this table has been shortened to save space). Summarize the participants’ responses (from their Scoring Sheets) by placing tally (or hatch) marks in the table below.  Tally marks will enable the group to see the patterns of the responses.

Item E L M D U


Polling Activity Debrief

Collect all Scoring Sheets and summarize them on your whiteboard or flipchart. When the participants’ individual tallies have been recorded for all to see, proceed with the debrief.


  • What makes categorizing some of the behaviors difficult?  Which items were difficult to categorize?
  • Can a behavior be “slightly unethical?” or “Close, but not quite unethical?”
  • What criteria did you use to categorize your choices?  In other words, as you grouped the behaviors on the list, what were your choices based on?

               Possible examples of criteria:

  •            • Would the violation be discovered?
  •            • Were people emotionally affected?
  •            • Were significant dollars involved?
  •            • Would this behavior physically harm anyone?
  • Do you think people consider impacts or consequences when they are making their choices about ethical issues?  Which impacts make the most difference?

Discuss the results displayed on the flipchart summary. Look for certain item numbers.  Were most of the behaviors listed as E or U, or were many more listed in the gray columns?  ASK participants what patterns stand out for them.

POINT OUT items (behaviors) that have the widest range of responses.  Have the group discuss why these items might have received the range of responses they did.

SUGGEST that a possible explanation for items having a range of responses (tally marks in several categories) or items where a large number of responses labeled the behavior as M is that the organization’s policies and guidance on these behaviors might not be clear enough.

As time permits, discuss other patterns participants see in the responses. It’s likely that very rich discussions will occur around the issues raised by this exercise.


  • As we gain experience in the workplace, we tend to see things less often in terms of black and white.  Where we draw the line between right and wrong tends to become a bit blurry.
  • When right and wrong become blurry — when we are operating in the gray zone — we should fall back on the guidance of our experience, or the guidance of rules, procedures, and laws for direction.
  • It’s not possible for organizations to guide every specific behavior, or to have a rule or regulation to cover every situation. That’s why it comes down to the individual and to his or her choices.
  • Employees need to understand the intent of the organization’s code of conduct, and have an understanding of its values (and for the organization to have clear values).

Handout: Ethical Polling

Directions: What category does each of the behaviors on the list belong to?

E Clearly Ethical.
L Light Gray. Ethical, but a little fuzzy.
M Medium Gray/Fuzzy. Not obviously unethical, but not really ethical either.
D Dark Gray.  Shady.  Leaning strongly toward unethical.
U Clearly Unethical.


1. Conducting personal business on company time (sending personal messages on company e-mail; extending lunch breaks to run errands).
2. Using or taking company resources for personal purposes (home office, kids’ school, etc.).
3. Calling in sick when you’re not really sick.
4. Going to work to meet a deadline when you’re obviously sick or contagious.
5. Telling or passing along an ethnically- or sexually-oriented joke.
6. Engaging in negative gossip or spreading rumors about someone.
7. Bad-mouthing the company or management to co-workers.
8. Bad-mouthing the company or management to people outside the company.
9. Reading information or documents on a co-worker’s desk or computer screen without their knowledge.
10. Passing along personal information shared in confidence.
11. Ignoring an organizational rule or procedure.
12. Explaining behavior with, “No one told me not to do this.”
13. Failing to follow through on something promised by a date/time without renegotiating the deadline.
14. Withholding work-related information shared in confidence that others may need.
15. Letting someone fail at a task to strengthen your own position.
16. Accepting credit for something that someone else did.
17. Manipulating or withholding information in order to make a sale.
18. Failing to acknowledge or failing to attempt to correct an obvious mistake.
19. Expecting someone else to check your work for errors or flaws.
20. At tax time, making two copies of your personal returns on the office copier.


Polling Scoring Sheet

Directions: Write the numbers of the items on the Handout that fall into each of the following categories. For example, if you marked items 4, 7 and 12 as E (Ethical), write 4, 7, 12 in the large box on the E (Ethical) row.  Do the same for each category (E, L, M, D, U).


Scale Items at this Level
Light Gray
Medium Gray
Dark Gray

Please hand this form to the workshop leader after recording your responses.
Do not write your name on the form.

This activity is excerpted from the Leader’s Guide for the video training program Ethics 4 Everyone.

Need more help in this area? Ethics 4 Everyone provides a powerful ethics overview for any type of organization. In just 15 minutes, viewers see why focusing on ethics is key to organizational and individual success. They are also given an ethical action test, tips for solving ethical dilemmas, and more.

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