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Ethics, stress and the need to be nice

All members should be familiar with the ICAEW Code of Ethics, but firing off an angry email can cause stress and a possible breach of professional ethics, writes Julia Penny.

Julia Penny

February 2019

The ICAEW Code of Ethics sets out several fundamental principles, with which we should all be familiar. The five principles are as follows, with the numbers indicating the section within the Code, which are based on the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) code:

  • 110 Integrity
  • 120 Objectivity
  • 130 Professional Competence and Due Care
  • 140 Confidentiality
  • 150 Professional Behaviour

The ICAEW code will be updated in 2019 to reflect various developments, such as clarification of how we deal with reporting of non-compliance with laws and regulations, or NOCLAR. However, there will be little, if any change in the fundamental principles.

In this article I would like to briefly consider the final principle of professional behaviour. It increasingly seems that we live in a society where the stresses and strains of work (and perhaps home life) might cause us to breach this principle. For instance, in 2018 an accountant was fined £1,500 plus £8,000 in costs for an outburst of profanity aimed at a former client. Other cases have involved similar issues in social media content.

Section 150.5 clarifies that:

‘Professional accountants shall conduct themselves with courtesy and consideration towards all with whom they come into contact when performing their work.’

Sounds very simple, but in the heat of the moment how many of us may have ranted at a colleague, a supplier or our professional body? Do we take the time to re-read what we have written in an email dealing with a difficult topic to check whether it might cause stress or even distress to the individual receiving it?

Poorly worded emails might not constitute a breach of ethics, but can contribute to the rising levels of stress that many of us are seeing in the workplace. It is usually when we are under great stress that we are most likely to lack courtesy and consideration, and risk breaching our ethics.

As many of us are extra busy at this time of year, perhaps it is time to try extra hard to be nice to each other.

Julia Penny FCA is London ICAEW Council Member and Technical Director at SWAT UK @JSPenny

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