gift horse: horses on a carousel

From a simple invitation to a company compliance issue. How do you deal with gifts and incentives? asks Patricia Jacob

Marketing campaigns from service providers have evolved dramatically during the past decades. What used to be an invitation to a free weekend away for Management Assistants in an event organiser role, is now called an ‘educational tour’ or ‘roadshow’. These sound like professional courses, but in fact, they are not much more than marketing and advertising campaigns. In fact, they mostly have quite an attractive programme, and are organised by hotel chains, regional tourist offices or events professionals. You will find a lot of interesting activities, useful contacts and information there, gathered around a good networking platform.

For invited delegates the whole event is free of charge, including food and accommodation. And in some cases flights are sponsored, too. And here is the dilemma – the decision to accept the invitation should be taken very carefully. Is it compliant to be invited at no cost by a service provider?

Comply or die?

Compliance is becoming more of an issue in many organisations, particularly for big players working at an international level. Strong compliance regulations and awareness campaigns are often rolled out to provide employees with guidance on how to behave appropriately.

It is very difficult to differentiate where an invitation stops being compliant and possible corruption begins.

For example, is it corrupt to accept the lunch invitation from your favourite hotel or restaurant? Or to receive their annual Christmas gift? And what about the special tariff specially granted for a private stay?

In fact, any kind of incentive-based gift that influences the heart and soul is an attempt to corrupt decision-making. And it is clearly against free competition market rules.

In some countries like China or the US, industrial corruption is very rigorously prosecuted and a single case can cost millions of dollars, or even result in a jail sentence. At the very least, it means in-depth legal investigations taking many years with a lot of paperwork. Serious compliance issues usually begin with an unexpected ‘dawn raid’ where officials arrive at the company’s offices and request specific files and documents. Here, there is no chance to say ‘No’. Therefore, Executive Assistants must keep a clear mind and not compromise themselves or their companies.

Many businesses are training their client-facing staff (for example, Receptionists) as well as Executive Assistants, in how to handle such situations. Others are going even further and have created a dedicated compliance office.

The Compliance Office

The Compliance Office communicates and manages regulations and ensures that they are followed throughout the organisation. It gives support and reports regularly to the Board about progress. It all sounds very administrative, but compliance is a divisive topic. And for a good reason: who would like to do business with somebody being prosecuted and making negative headlines in the newspapers?

In practice, internal company rules still allow low-value gifts, so don’t worry – no dawn raid will occur if you are receiving flowers or chocolates from your service provider. Just accept and say thank you.

Patricia Jacob is the Swiss National Chairman for European Management Assistants (EUMA), a non-profit association for PAs with members from 26 countries throughout Europe. Patricia is French citizen and moved to Germany in 1980 to improve her language ... (Read More)

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