When fairness squares up against ethics

Xrayser Can undue pressure from management ever be a justification for fraud?

I've got staff problems. No, no – don't get me wrong – the people working for me at Xrayser Pharmacy are usually hard-working, educated, fun individuals with low absence rates. That's what makes it all the harder when I have to manage their performance.

I thought about this as I read a C+D report about false claims for service payment. The article attracted online debate about the role and pressure of the pharmacist's management, with some arguing undue pressure from the boss drove this deceit. It left me wondering if that could be true, and if it was – could that ever be justification?

There have been occasions when my staff have proposed fraud. A dispenser who has worked for us since day one has – on occasion – suggested submitting a script with an obscure item that was ordered, but ended up not being dispensed. "Well we can't return it, and it'll just go out of date, so at least we'll get paid for it!" Such an argument gains her no bonus or promotion, she feels it's only fair because it prevents a loss to her employer. I feel churlish and jobsworth when, almost apologetically, I decline her altruistic dishonesty – not because I think she is wrong, but because the penalty is socially and professionally unacceptable.

We all know right from wrong. We know the difference between arriving home with a company issue pen in our pocket and raiding the stationery cupboard. So you'd be stupid, surely, to commit a crime gaining your employer thousands of pounds, and take the whole responsibility for a share of less than 4 per cent of the haul.

But then I have no target imposed, nor bonus to achieve. Would I think differently if my basic pay depended on so-called SMART objectives? Do all employers scrutinise the service claims of their pharmacies? Even if they don't – happily seeing the payment for pressurised high-flying achievements (no questions asked) – they have committed no crime. So what of good management?

If I am pressurising or incentivising my staff so much that they feel fraud is a valid option, then I have not fulfilled my obligation as a manager. I should be managing their understanding of what is acceptable business practice, and I should be aware of their actions in the same way that I am aware of the clinical safety in which my pharmacy operates. As superintendent I share responsibility for dispensing errors, regardless of whether I'm involved or not, so what about fraud?

They call it MBWA – Managing By Wandering Around – and a little bit of that to experience the work of top-performing MUR pharmacists could ensure such services were appropriately completed. Of course, to do that properly requires your manager to be a pharmacist – a qualification that seems less common in these enlightened times. Imagine – not fully understanding your employees' work! Now there's a crime.

How do you deal with difficult management dilemmas?

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