Staying Complaint as Compliance Moves Out of the Office

By Patricia Lenkov
Chair, Executive Search, N2Growth

Thanks at least in part to the banking scandals over the past few years, Reuters has recently reported that bank compliance teams are increasingly scrutinizing outside the office activities like social outings to bars and the like. In fact, Reuters reported that some banks in Europe are even requiring their employees to take part in behavior coaching sessions that include simulations of pub outings where the talk turns to subjects like office gossip or clients and the “right answer” is to change the subject and change it quickly. So how do employees now, whether they work in banking, on Wall Street or in other industries also under scrutiny, stay compliant when compliance is increasingly moving out of the workplace and into social gatherings or public places? Here are a couple of tips to consider:

Stay Informed Outside the Office.

While it’s all too easy to make clients, work or business the topic of conversation when you are socializing with your colleagues, you will have much more to talk about if you stay well informed about events or activities such as sports, current events, places to vacation or even the latest movie or television show. Just one big caveat: Avoid politics. While that may be hard to do with elections around the corner, you could easily step on a colleague or manager’s toes with the mere mention of anything political if they hold an opposing viewpoint.

Avoid Alcohol or Drink in Moderation.

An alcoholic drink or two may be a great way to unwind at the end of the day or week but an excess of alcohol can easily have you let down your guard a little too much and you may find yourself discussing business at the bar. Perhaps even worse, a few drinks might noticeably increase the decibel of your voice (just like some people talk noticeably louder on their mobile phones) and put you and your conversation within earshot of those who are not part of your group – even competitors who may frequent the same watering holes after hours.

Assume Everyone is Listening!

It’s amazing how much private business gets discussed in taxi cabs on the way to a meeting or at restaurants while a meal is being served or just within earshot of plenty of other people who aren’t intended to be part of the conversation. My personal pet peeve is loud personal or confidential business conversations in elevators!

Remember, chances are the taxi cab driver driving you to that meeting, the golf caddy carrying your golf clubs and the waiter or waitress serving you that business lunch or dinner are not deaf and neither are the people sitting at the tables around you. Hence, be aware of your surroundings, how private they are and who is in them before discussing really personal business that might be better discussed in a meeting room with the doors closed. Remember the scene from the movie Barbarians at the Gate (based on true story about the attempted buyout of R.J.R. Nabisco) where the barber (among others) promptly acted on stock tips they heard while serving some of the characters in the story?

Whether you work in banking or on Wall Street or in another profession, just remember that what you do or say at social gatherings or in public places is under increased and ever-escalating scrutiny.

Thoughts?