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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Silicon Valley Business Ethics Cases

An Intern's Dilemma

When You Disagree with Your Supervisor

An intern is stuck in the middle of a workplace dispute.

Megan was working as a summer intern at a small Silicon Valley company. She had interned at the company the year before and was happy to return. Her job was to review, revise, and create documents that outlined key department processes. Megan had worked in the department and reported to the same manager, Cindy, as the previous summer. Cindy was a "big-picture" manager, while Megan considered herself more detail-oriented. Despite this difference, Megan and Cindy got along well and had a good working relationship.

Towards the end of the summer, Megan was tasked with creating a document that described how the company renews client contracts and obtains quotes for customers. Although parts of the process had been documented elsewhere, Megan had to outline the extensive process in one document because various teams in the company referred to it on a frequent basis. For example, Megan's manager, Cindy, used this particular renewal process document as a training guide for new employees.

In order to successfully complete her assignment, Megan spent a significant amount of time communicating with Sarah, a company manager based in Ireland. In fact, Sarah's team managed the renewal process that Megan was working to document, so Sarah was quite familiar with how the process worked. During this phase of the project, Cindy made it clear to Megan that she did not work well with Sarah and did not appreciate her work style.

Megan began creating her report, once completed, sent it on to Cindy, Sarah, and other managers for feedback and revisions. Not before long, Megan found herself in the middle of each manager's differing opinion. Cindy felt the document should be written at a “higher level,” and did not want to confuse new trainees with “once in a blue moon” scenarios that could be handled on a case-by-case basis. Sarah, on the other hand, wanted every detail and discrepancy of the process included so her team could use it as a comprehensive reference guide. During the editing process, Cindy would visit Megan's desk, wanting to gossip about her experience working with Sarah and "how awful the project must be" for Megan.

Megan was conflicted: she wanted to remain on good terms with her manager, Cindy, and it was clear that there was a great deal of tension between her and Sarah. At the same time, she felt that Sarah's opinion was more representative of what the company actually needed from the final document.

What should Megan do?

business, case