Ethics in action: Multitasking during a pandemic
The modern workplace can be an ethical minefield. This monthly column helps you tackle the thorny, but very real, challenges that management accountants face in the workplace.
Written by the CIMA professional standards team and based on realistic situations, the following is a practical guide to using the CIMA Code of Ethics to guide good decision-making.
You are a CIMA member working as a finance director at a law firm. You have line management responsibility for three accountants, all of whom are also CIMA members. You have all been working from home since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of your direct reports, George, seems to be finding the current situation particularly hard. You know that he is having to work alongside helping his two children complete their schoolwork at home. He obtained his CIMA membership just a couple of years ago, and some of the work he has completed recently has been full of mistakes.
Last week, you asked all your direct reports to attend a training course to refresh their knowledge of a particular aspect of their roles. Emily, another of your direct reports, tells you during a weekly one-to-one call that George seemed distracted through the training course and she is concerned that he didn’t learn everything he should have.
What should you do?
Ethical issues and guidance
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected life for everyone, with people forced to work in new ways and juggle multiple responsibilities. Working parents have been very hard-hit in countries where schools have closed, and they have found themselves working in a new environment trying to manage childcare and education simultaneously. You should be sympathetic to George’s situation. However, you also have a responsibility for the work your direct reports are completing.
Under the fundamental principle of professional competence and due care in the CIMA Code of Ethics, CIMA members have a responsibility to “take reasonable steps to ensure that those working in a professional capacity under the accountant’s authority have appropriate training and supervision”. George has been handing in substandard work, and now it seems as if he might be unable to complete the training he needs to fulfil his duties.
You should be careful of relying on Emily’s assessment of George’s capabilities — it can be hard to tell via video whether someone is following the call or distracted. You might want to schedule a feedback call and ask George about the training course to make your own assessment as to whether he is proficient in the new skills.
During this conversation, you should ask George how he is coping with the current COVID-19 restrictions. The role of the line manager has had to change over the last year, with face-to-face conversations with direct reports replaced by phone or video calls, and it can be hard to know how people are coping with the changed ways of working. If he is struggling and wants support, your HR department may have guidance in place to support parents who are having to home-school their children.
You might be able to work with George to find a way to make his work fit better with his caring responsibilities. For example, if he is able to work more effectively in the evenings and the job allows, you could look at offering flexible working times. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach — different things will work for different people, so you should make this a collaborative process where possible.
Ultimately you need to abide by the Code of Ethics and ensure that the work is being done well and that your team are competent and working with diligence. In some cases, this might mean there is a need to replace a member of staff who is not performing their work to an acceptable standard. However, it is important to balance this with the challenge of finding a suitable replacement and the need to be sympathetic to the extraordinary circumstances COVID-19 has created.
As a CIMA member, George must also follow the fundamental principle of professional competence and due care and ensure he is completing work carefully and accurately. It could be that you can have a conversation with the whole team and consider how you could redistribute work, at least in the short term, to make sure that the work is being done properly. It might be, for example, that George works on more basic tasks for the moment whilst more complex work is given to the others in the team.
— Bryony Clear Hill is the associate manager–Ethics Awareness for CIMA and is based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.