Wednesday, December 20, 2006

利益衝突 / Conflict of Interest

An Asian friend of mine, who had just moved to Canada not that long ago, asked me earlier today whether he needed to thank his boss and colleagues with gifts during the Christmas and New Year celebration. At first I thought he was just joking, but then the frankness in his eyes told me it was not a hypothetical question. He genuinely wanted to thank them !! In the Canadian work environment, the practice of giving and receiving gifts during festival season really put both parties into a difficult situation. Does it mean the recipient is therefore obliged to look after the other person's interests? Is the giver trying to exert undue influence? More seriously, does the transaction raise the suspicion of corruption? This is no joking matter. So, I quickly explained to my friend that if a close colleague is getting married or having a child, he could pool money with other co-workers to buy a gift. But avoid giving cash (so-called "unmarked bills") or sending a big gift privately. I advised him to reconsider carefully, drop this idea of giving out personal Christmas/New Year gifts, and instead, buy a box of good chocolates and share them with his boss and colleagues. This way, he would avoid getting into the embarrassing and difficult situation I had just described. From a human resources management policy perspective, good work values and ethics means free from both real AND perceived conflict of interest. The latter means a person's actions and behaviours should not put him/herself into a situation that could create the perception of a conflict. Perhaps some people might say this approach is cold and inhuman. However, a clear and transparent conflict of interest policy will have the positive result of protecting individual workers, the institution, the investors/stakeholders, and the society as a whole.

Chinese Version:
This English article is based on the Chinese version I wrote. To read the original, please click:

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