40 Workplace Scenarios


1) A company that manufactures furniture increasingly finds that their workforce speaks Spanish fluently but not English. Management does not know Spanish and this creates communication problems. Should management learn Spanish? Should English classes be offered to the workers? Are there other solutions? The company is struggling to contain costs so any solution should be cost effective.

2) Albert is a younger Mexican American worker and standing in line in the company cafeteria. Eddie, and older European American, steps in from of Albert, “I have been here longer and belong in front of the line”.  Albert files a complaint with the company and claims this is an example of racism in the workplace. What should management do?

3) Paul is working in an upscale music store.  One of his coworkers makes fun of his clothes all the time. The coworker is not a very good dresser and Ben could easily make fun of the way the coworker dresses.   Ben is thinking he can suffer silently or fight “fire with fire”. What should Paul do?

4) Celestina’s office mate is a heavy drinker. However, the office mate’s behavior does not interfere with work. Celestina wants to say something but does not know if this is her place even though they are friends since they are also coworkers. What should Celestina do?

5) Chris is in a business meeting in Beijing. The Chinese are predictably dragging out business negotiations by focusing on minutia in order to wear him down. Chris knows all about this Chinese tactic but is tempted to just be honest and tell them he knows what they are doing and he is sick of Chinese mind games and they should just make a final offer one way or another. Should Chris go ahead and be so direct with the Chinese?

6) Chuck listens to music on his computer with headphones on.  However, Chuck often ends up going to sleep and snoring which irritates his coworkers. How should Chuck’s coworkers handle the situation?

7) Daniel is the new boss in a factory in Suzhou, China. Daniel hired a nephew of a party official to smooth over negotiations with the local government. The nephew is a disaster and has cost the company money. Zhou is his number two man in the government and suggests the nephew be transferred to an inactive post were the nephew will not cause problems. This is totally against company policy. Daniel is pretty sure his bosses back in the US would not understand the details of “guanxi” politics in China. On the other hand, Daniel’s US bosses are far away and also want results in China. Chris could transfer the nephew to a post that is not inactive but where damage to the company is minimized. What should Daniel do?

8) David has to do a presentation at work. There is one member that always makes sarcastic off topic comments after his presentations that the other employees always laugh at. David feels the comments are meant to undermine his authority. The sarcastic coworker has lower rank than David but is not a subordinate and in another department altogether. What should David do?

9) Elisa has a coworker, Sally, who likes to talk about politics. Elisa does not care that much about politics all that much but finds her co-workers political views to be little extreme. Elisa likes her coworker and wants to get along with her. Elisa has thought of just pretending to agree with Sally or telling Sally she would rather talk about other subjects. Elisa suspects that Sally will be insulted if she goes with the second option. What should Elisa do?

10) Elsa and Juanita have just finished doing a house call for the company.  Elsa wants to stop for a drink before going back to the company.  Juanita tells Elsa this is time theft and drinking on the job is a serious infraction of company rules. Elsa drives to the bar anyway since the car belongs to Elsa. Elsa has walked into the bar. Juanita is sitting in the car trying to figure out her next move. What should Juanita do?

11) Larry works in a company that is going out of business.   The management is in legal trouble and almost never in the building. There are several computers on desks that have no employees. Some of the workers are taking computers as they clean out their desks and no one seems to care. Today is Larry’s last day and he is tempted to take a computer back home. All the equipment and furniture will probably be sold at auction and the proceeds given to creditors. The creditors are mostly huge companies. What should Larry do?

12) Ernest has absorbed the workload of a fellow worker that was a friend but laid off. Ernest has a lot of questions about the job and could ask his friend for advice. Ernest wants to have drinks or coffee with the friend and ask advice but is not sure how to go about this. Ernest also thinks such a meeting might be “rubbing salt into the wound” of his friend. What should Ernest do?

13) Foster works are at a giant company doing web development. Fosters handles the same web development task again and again. The chances of promotion are small but Foster commands a very high salary even if the work is becoming increasingly boring. Foster is a very talented programmer and a startup company headed by an old college friend wants him to get in on the ground floor and Foster will own a fifth of the shares of the new company. Foster is aware that these sort of startups generally fail but the thought of being the next Steve Jobs excites him. However, you recently bought a very expensive house and the monthly payment is no problem with your current salary but might be a problem if your salary is drastically reduced as it would be with the startup. What should Foster do?

14) Jacob is waiting for his ride outside of work. Jacob observes two of the company security workers loading boxes of paper into a van and driving off. Jacob has seen this occur more than once and suspects the security guards may be stealing. The security guards are quite large and tough looking. What should Jacob do?

15) James is a computer teacher, and the principal asked him to help enter some data into the school computer. James brags to the principal that he could hack his way into the student grade reports because security is so lax. The principal doesn’t know if he has changed any grades or not but doubts he has done anything. What should the principal do?

16) Jane is an attractive female at a large company. Jane has been promoted on a regular basis and is making a large salary for her age. Lately, a senior manager has been flirting more and more with Jane and Jane knows from experience that the situation is escalating. Jane has thought of getting a new job. Jane has considered wearing a fake wedding ring. Jane has considered being direct and just letting the senior manager know that she is not interested. Jane has even considered filing a formal complaint if the situation goes too far but hope she can stop the situation from getting too far ahead of time. What should Jane do?

17) Jason is invited to a Japanese restaurant in Nagoya, Japan by coworkers. Jason is new to Japan and new to the company. Every time he drinks a beer another beer is immediately offered. Jason is pretty drunk but his coworkers seem to just be getting started. No one is turning down drinks. Jason wants to leave or at least stop drinking but doesn’t want to be the foreigner who doesn’t fit in. What should Jason do?

18) Jimmy is a hair dresser and is about to make some hair dye for a customer. Jimmy asks for some gloves to wear since the chemicals can cause mild irritation if mishandled.  Jimmy is told that they do not have any gloves and not to bother since wearing gloves slows down the mixing process and customer service is more important than minor safety issues.  What should Jimmy do?

19) Joe is a secretary for a large bank.  Joe is in charge of customer service.  A customer calls and demands to talk with the manager of the bank.  Joe has been instructed not to forward calls to the bank manager and handle such calls himself.  The man starts using abusive language.  What should John do?

20) John is a paralegal in a law firm. John’s supervisor, Yolanda, is female and Hispanic. Yolanda is extremely attractive, about five years older and charming. Yolanda invites John to have drinks next Friday. John does not have a girlfriend. John is not sure of Yolanda’s marital status but Yolanda does not marry a wedding ring and seemingly avoids questions about a boyfriend and/or husband. John does like Yolanda but doesn’t want any trouble at work either. What should John do?

21) Joseph is a factory worker. Joseph looks at his pay check stub and realizes there is too much overtime. Joseph knows from experience this sort of mistake is almost never caught and even if caught, he will not be held not responsible since this is the responsibility of payroll. Joseph is struggling to make ends meet. What should Joseph do?

22) Keith has been writing reports for his boss at a medium sized company. The boss signs his name to the reports and gives Keith zero credit. The boss treats Keith well in all other ways. Keith is increasingly irritated about not getting credit but wonders if he just needs to take the good with the bad. What should Keith do?

23) Kevin is given the job by his female superior to talk to her secretary about showing too much cleavage in the work place. Kevin actually thinks the secretary dresses a little too sexy but not over the top. Kevin is irritated that he is being put in a position to talk about what he considers a female issue. Kevin has no idea how to broach the subject and is already uncomfortable about talking about the subject. Kevin is tempted to tell his boss that maybe this is something better said woman to woman. What should Kevin do?

24) Linda’s subordinate Anne has been let go. Anne wants a letter of recommendation. Anne was an excellent subordinate but is hated by Linda’s boss who is the person who fired Anne. Linda is in an industry sector in which everyone knows everyone. There is a high probability that Linda’s letter of recommendation will be known by her own superior. What should Linda do?

25) Lori has the actual interview questions asked of all applicants. Lorna’s nephew wants a copy of the interview questions. Lori initially refuses but her sister calls her up and argues that family comes first. Lori does think family is important and that giving a copy of the interview is not all that big a deal. However, Lori still feels uncomfortable about giving anyone an unfair advantage in an interview.

26) Mel has received a new computer and wants to try it out. His subordinate is a computer whiz and offers to put software on the computer that allows him to get around the company firewall and access sites like Facebook and YouTube. What should Mel do?

27) Michael is a senior manager that has hired a new secretary that is extremely attractive and dresses in a very sexy manner. Michael has no problem with how his secretary dresses. However, Michael is becoming aware that some of the other women in the office do not approve of how his secretary dresses. Michael thinks how his secretary dresses is basically his business and no one else’s business but also think overall company harmony is important. What should Michael do?

28) Miguel is a new employee whose family is from El Salvador. John is European American who has been at the company for over ten years. John is very does not follow the book and takes a lot of short cuts. Miguel likes to follow the rules. Miguel also thinks as a new employee that he will not be given as much leeway as John if he breaks the rules. What should Miguel do?

29) Miller’s coworker and friend is laid off. Several months later the tires of your boss are slashed. You remember your coworker threatening to slash the tires of anyone who messed with him but this was months ago and before the coworker was fired. What should Miller do?

30) Richard has heard some outrageous rumors about his work behavior. Richard thinks he has traced the source of these rumors but is not 100 percent sure if the person he suspects is the culprit. What should Richard do?

31) Robert’s mother is Hispanic but Robert’s last name is not Hispanic and Robert does not look Hispanic. Robert does consider himself Hispanic. Two of Robert’s coworkers like to make jokes about Hispanics apparently unaware that he is Hispanic. Robert has heard the jokes before and is not that bothered by them but also feels he is being a “race traitor” by not saying anything. What should Robert do?

32) Sally is a manager of customer service for a company in Florida that primarily responds to upscale European American customers using the phone. The company had a policy of not hiring customer workers with a Spanish accent. Sally wonders if the policy is outdated and even slightly racist. However, Sally is pretty sure that challenging the company policy will lead to major friction between her and her boss. What should Sally do?

33) Sarah was recently hired to work as a secretary and is after hours and not being paid overtime. Her son, John, needs some copies for a school project and arrives at the office. The son has brought his own paper and needs 100 copies for his class project. If John doesn’t bring the copies to class tomorrow then he will fail the project. The copy shops are all closed. There is no one else in the office. There is basically no oversight about copies she makes since she often does special projects for the boss. What should Sarah do?

34) Saul shares an office with two other coworkers. Saul does like to talk about his family and his personal life. John used to listen politely. However, John thinks the workplace is for work and not a place to vent. Reggie finds Saul’s monologues amusing but is aware that John is slowly getting angrier and angrier. Saul is also getting more and more irritated with John since John stares at the computer and tunes Saul out when he talks which Saul finds very rude. Reggie thinks that sooner or later Saul and John are going to have a major fight. Reggie is unsure what he should do. Reggie gets along very well with both Saul and John but has no mediation background. What should Reggie do?

35) Sonya is a new nurse’s aide. Sonya’s coworkers are Filipina. The Filipinas are fluent in English but choose to talk in Tagalog which Sonya does not understand. Sonya feels this is rude and this practice makes her feel like an outsider. What should Sonya do?

36) Steve is a manager at an American food processing company in Bangkok and wants more employee participation at meetings. Workers generally make positive comments but refuse to make critical comments about any proposals put forth by Steve. Another American manager suggests using Post-Its after presentations to elicit comments. Steve’s Thai secretary suggests Steve have drinks after work with the senior workers. The Thai secretary thinks the Post-Its are a bad idea since this might elicit more negative comments but also lead to senior workers losing face. What should Steve do?

37) Thomas is American manager in Taipei. Thomas is trying to sell your product to a company that could be a major buyer. Lee is in charge of buying your product wants to visit your company before making the purchase. However, your company is in San Diego and wants to take a detour to Disney Land in California as part of the company trip. What should Thomas do?

38) Todd slipped on some oil and sprained his back. Todd’s job pays a little more than minimum wage. The company gave Todd a week off with pay. Todd’s job is waiting for him when he recovers. The company is willing to give Todd a small settlement but if he takes the settlement then cannot return to work. Todd’s friend is a lawyer and says he should sue the company and get a substantial settlement. The back ache went away in a couple of days. The friend says that back aches are tricky and the fact that Todd is ok is not a problem. What should Todd do?

39) Tom is responsible for giving a bonus to factory workers that have perfect attendance during the month. One worker missed one day due to a death in the family. The worker starts crying in Tom’s office and tells Tom that she needs the bonus desperately since she is behind on her rent. The rules are pretty clear and the bonus is for perfect attendance period no if, buts or maybes. However, Tom does have the authority to make exceptions to the rule. What should Tom do?

40) Tony has just delivered a batch of computers with his coworker Sam. The truck brushes against a parked car and leaves a very small scratch. Sam thinks they should leave a note. Tony says this will create problems for them at work. What should Sam do next?

6 responses to “40 Workplace Scenarios

  1. THANK YOU!

  2. helpful, thanks

  3. Much Appreciated.
    Very Helpful Thankyou

  4. Many thanks for these!! It is a wonderful resource for discussion and exploring conflict styles and self reflection.

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