3 Easy Ways to Distinguish Between a Gift and a Bribe

HR Intervention

Hello, and welcome to another installment of HR Intervention!  Today we’re going to talk about ethics, which means you’re probably already asleep. And I can sympathize – it’s virtually impossible to talk about it without sounding pedantic or preachy. None of us like being lectured to, so we usually drown out these silly ethics conversations for basically the same reason we ignored our parents when they told us lima beans were “good for us.”

None of us like thinking that we aren’t good enough.

However, ethics training is important in order to prevent all of us from taking steroids and bribing judges and fixing elections and basically making the world impossible to live in. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

So here are three fun and super simple questions to help you decide if that gift you just got is really a gift or a bribe!

1. Is The Gift Standard for Your Industry?

Vendors will often take potential clients out to dinner, companies will often fly prospective employees to on-site interviews, and nobody thinks twice about that. If the thing you’re being offered is normal for your industry, then there’s a good chance it’s OK. After all, if everybody else jumped off the bridge, you probably would too!

2. Is the ‘Gift’ Absurdly Exotic? 

The problem with the above question is that some ‘standard’ gifts are so expensive that it’s virtually impossible to trust the person giving it to you. Pretty much all of us can be bought, which is why Fear Factor was a popular show. So remember, kids – if anyone offers to bio-engineer a Tyrannosaurus Rex of your very own, don’t get in the car.

3. Is the ‘Gift’ Designed to Get You to Do Something You Know You Shouldn’t Do?

And here’s the real question. The others are pretty obvious; a free dinner is normal, and a free speedboat is probably suspect – which is unfortunate, by the way, because I could totally use a new speedboat to replace the speedboat I don’t currently own. But gifts that are attached to an expectation that you perform a certain action are almost certainly unethical. The question I wanted to put here was, “Does the gift feel like a bribe?” But then I thought that I sure wouldn’t feel bribed if I were driving my new speedboat, so I came up with a better one. Sorry, guys.

To get all of your employees on the same page, BizLibrary Productions has created two video courses – one for employees and one for managers – that cover the basics of ethics and how to act if you find yourself in an ethical predicament.

View a preview of “What Doesn’t Work with Ethics” here:

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-808-0884, email, or visit

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert