by Bev Kracher, Ph.D.
Gift giving, it seems, can grease the wheels of business. We might take prospective clients out to a lunch meeting; maybe we throw in some gift cards in a thank-you note to a supplier. In Omaha, maybe a vendor trying to get your company’s business sends you tickets the College World Series.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with giving or receiving a gift, research shows that even small gifts may unconsciously influence our actions. Therefore, it’s in a company’s best interest to consider how their policies might encourage questionable behavior.
In our work at the Alliance, we’ve seen this topic of discussion among large and small companies alike. It can be tricky, and there is no single right answer. How companies deal with this issue is as varied as the types of companies that exist.
What companies want to avoid are policies that no one knows about or follows.
How do you get your staff to understand why your gift policy is important and that disclosure isn’t necessarily admitting to something that will land them in the hot seat?
First, assess your current policy to see where things might go awry. Consider the contexts in which gift-giving might occur in your industry. Ask questions about the feasibility of your policy: does it need updating for inflation? Are the boundaries clear? Be sure to give staff direction on how to discern whether a gift is appropriate or not, even if it is within the boundaries set by the policy. If you’re a multi-national company, consider how cultural norms might affect your policy. Do you make allowances for these cultural differences? How should employees respond if they are offered a gift deemed inappropriate by the policy but the cultural context makes declining difficult?
Next, design and target training to those key employees most affected by this policy. They should know both the significance of and the steps to take for disclosure. Equip employees with the necessary guidelines to distinguish appropriate gifts from inappropriate gifts. Consider pre-scripting responses that anyone in the company could use to decline a gift even in an awkward situation.
An effective gift policy will empower employees to accept or decline gifts within the scope of ethical behavior while still allowing them to conduct business with a spirit of cordial gift giving and receiving.
Not sure where to start? Try out our Decision-Making Model.
And read more about the ethics of business gifts here.