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Giving and misgiving at Christmas

As gifts and good wishes descend with all the weight of Santa and an untrustworthy chimney, so too can gifts and hospitality land with dubious merit.

Largesse is not always what it seems. Expense can sometimes come with expectations. And business giving can sometimes be tinged with a ‘thank you for keeping quiet‘, ‘for choosing my business (without following due process)‘ or ‘for turning a blind eye‘.

Giving and gift registers that enable everyone in a company to see what has been given and from whom, build trust. When gifts are subsequently shared throughout a business, the delights and employee relationships also grow stronger.

A gift register is a simple means to promote transparency and prevent temptation from taking hold.

Equally important to promote is the ready access to a speak-up or reporting line when the giving seems out of whack. Many employees won’t associate gift giving or receiving with the potential for corruption or bribery, so ensuring such behaviour – in all its forms – is well understood can’t be left to chance.

Employees, however, may well be troubled with the reporting of lavish gifts, given the potential perception of ‘sour grapes’.

On this basis, and in line with global trends, the decision to engage with an external reporting agency is common sense.

According to Craig McFarlane, Director of Report it Now who market the EthicsPro™️ reporting software, there has been a noticeable surge in reporters seeking to report bad behaviour anonymously.

Who wants to be the Christmas Grinch when the company superhero is fully inflated?

But once gift-giving is put in the context of individual star performers or high-profile businesses, then the concerns around gifts and hospitality should be laser-sharp. So too should sensitivity as to how success is sustained.

In economic climates that challenge and test, it is not inconceivable that ethical corners will be cut. Doing well through doing bad only becomes a problem if caught.

Just recently the Commerce Commission filed criminal charges against two construction companies and two directors for alleged bid rigging of publicly funded construction contracts in Auckland. Commission Chair, John Small acknowledged that while there were a range of intelligence and detection methods, tip-offs or reporting from external sources were common.

The ‘gift’ of winning business doesn’t mean all business is won fairly. It is now accepted that high performers, the ones who win the tenders and turn the cold calls into business, ‘can become addicted to the recognition and accolades that accompany being heralded as the corporate rainmaker.’[1]

Alongside this view is the finding that when high-performing employees lower their ethical standards, there is a convenient tendency for senior management – including Boards of Directors – to minimize the behaviour because of the overall value they bring to the workplace.

Success therefore brings power and none better than being seen as invaluable.

All the more reason to ensure that anonymous and confidential external reporting is made possible so that information that is difficult to deny – and wise to confront – gets recorded.

In the January 2022 EY Global Integrity Report, more than 50% of people surveyed said unethical behaviour was often tolerated when senior managers were involved. This finding was strengthened through interviews with board members with 42% agreeing that unethical behaviour in senior or high performers was tolerated within their organisations.

The same report highlighted that nearly 60% of workers who reported misconduct felt pressure not to report it.

This is where misgivings can creep in. Reporting bad behaviour, dubious actions and sheer evil is the only means for protecting the vulnerable, maintaining reputation, securing stakeholder wealth – and the list goes on.

We know this. But it takes guts.

The emotional toll, coupled with powerful disincentives including not upsetting the leadership team or status quo, are ever-present.

Many gymnasts and their families in the South Island may well be struggling with misgivings at Christmas given that ‘star’ gymnastics coach Gregory Pask has pleaded guilty to sexual offending. The level and frequency with which this occurred, reinforces how power and status enabled brutality, as the community grew ever more comfortable with who was in their midst. Their silence may well be their biggest misgiving.

Girls, budding young gymnasts under 12, were sexually assaulted throughout 2014 and 2023. Simultaneously, Pask was named a Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year for his work as a volunteer coach of the girls recreational grades at the Blenheim Gymnastics Club.

Such success and hero status was the biggest community blindfold he could have hoped for.

Perhaps then the biggest gift for this Christmas is to reflect on any misgivings that may have filtered through but can now be seen in a fresh light.

In this context, Report it Now stands as a constant. They are a friend to those who see, feel and experience the aftermath of ethical lapses.

From construction to sport and recreation, the critical nature of reporting and the positive outcomes for society highlights the true spirit of Christmas that lies within us all.

[1] Fast Company, Richard Bistrong ‘Research shows high performing employees are more prone to unethical mistakes’.

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