Can Compliance Awareness Save The Holiday Season?

With the holiday season in full swing, we’re all thinking about decorations, gifts, cards, holiday parties, and anti-bribery and corruption law. No? Not everyone?

The festive season is a great time to celebrate and show appreciation for your colleagues and customers. Who doesn’t appreciate a nice gesture in the spirit of giving? But, hold your reindeers – of course there’s a catch.

Nobody wants to be the office Scrooge, but it’s our responsibility to ensure that our organizations are mindful of the risks associated with gift-giving – even during the holiday season. Even if something is wrapped in seasonal paper and bows, it might still be a violation your ethics policies, codes of conduct, or even bribery regulations.

The Dangers and Risks of Holiday Gifts

Let’s visit with a ghost of holiday present – this is Ron, he’s a portfolio manager with a well-known investment bank. He’s been working on bringing in a new client with a $6m account. The final stage of negotiation falls right in the middle of the holiday season.

Ron’s new client brings a bottle of scotch to the table for the last session. It’s wrapped with a lovely seasonal bow and a holiday card. Ron’s client says, “This is from me, personally. Happy holidays!”

Ron accepts – it’s a personal gift and a nice gesture. Nothing to worry about, right?

Of course – we all know; Ron has made a mistake here. This type of gift, despite the time of year, is a clear violation of his company’s anti-bribery and corruption policy. By accepting, Ron has done something that places his organization and his client at risk.

Those of us who live in the world of compliance spotted Ron’s problem right away. The challenge is helping Ron realize the concerns before he made the wrong choice. How can we help our colleagues and clients be aware of the risks during the holiday season? (Preferably without being a loathsome, Grinch-like, spoilsport)

Here are some tips you might find helpful!

Spread the Word – (Gently) Remind Employees of the Company Gift Policy

As a compliance professional, you know that a strong and comprehensive gift policy is an essential part of your company’s code of conduct. But the policy’s existence probably doesn’t feature in the minds of most of your colleagues. It may even slip completely from their thoughts as soon as the holiday spirit takes hold.

A simple reminder to the entire organization can work wonders in ensuring your colleagues keep ethical issues in mind. The challenge for folks like us, is to remind everyone without completely ruining the mood.

One strategy you can use is to have a little sense of humor in your announcement – but be sure to be sensitive to the variety of holiday traditions and how your humor might be perceived. (That’s definitely an article for another time, but I digress).

You can also lean on management or champions in the organization to remind their team, set a good example, talk about mistakes they’ve seen or almost made, etc. It’s great to talk with teams about the polite and charitable way to navigate the season ethically. Leading by example is among the least troubling ways to deliver guidance, but it’s not 100% reliable – so be sure to take the opportunity to promote awareness and understanding of the policy yourself.

Compliance Training – Give Your Colleagues the Reins

Now is a good a time as any for your colleagues to refresh or build on their own knowledge and understanding of anti-bribery and corruption legislation. An engaging compliance training course delivered shortly before, or during, the holiday season will boost employees’ awareness of important policies, as well as reinforce their own responsibility to protect themselves and the organization against unethical behavior.

You could start by encouraging your co-workers to take a short anti-bribery and corruption eLearning course. Something that won’t take too much of their time, but still draws their attention to the importance of compliance in the workplace.

The best part about this approach is – you don’t have to feel that you are the one taking the fun out of the festivities for them. Compliance training empowers your colleagues to make their own decisions about what constitutes workplace integrity and adherence to the company’s gifting policy.

Can Compliance Awareness Actually Save the Holiday Season?

There’s often no escaping the fact that a gracious employer will want to show their co-workers that they are valued, and understandably so. Employees will have worked hard all year, and the same enthusiasm and motivation will be expected from them during the new year. Team meals and other small offerings are great ways for employers to show appreciation to their staff.

Let’s make sure we remind our managers and leaders about budgetary constraints around gifts and entertainment, so the organization behaves ethically and remains compliant (while still celebrating and rewarding their teams’ hard work). And it’s never fun or cheerful to decline a gift from a client – but it’s still possible to thank someone and be grateful for the gesture, without accepting the gift itself. Some organizations may even have policies that let your colleagues turn an insistent client’s gift into a charitable donation – a good story and a great outcome for everyone. Be sure to consult your own policies before recommending this; it’s not an option for everyone.

Let’s do our best this year to make sure our colleagues can get the most out of this holiday season. Be sure to engage your colleagues with the policies and regulations they’ll need to understand so they don’t turn a happy, celebratory season into one that’s full of headache, fines, or worse.

Happy Holidays from Interactive Services!



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