Sunday, April 09, 2017

If class doesn't notice, do I need to show up?

Practitioners in many fields, including medicine, real estate, law, education, mental health, and social work -- are required to regularly complete supplemental education so they remain current in their work. How much is required is determined by the particular industry and can vary from state to state. But in any given week, there are thousands of professionals out there spending a day or two to brush up their credentials.

A mental health worker, A.C., was attending a two-day conference recently. Her license requires her to complete a specific number of education hours every year and this conference seemed relevant and interesting. Each conference organizer runs its conference a bit differently, so A.C. always takes the time to check to see what kind of documentation she needs to provide the organizer to ensure that she receives credit for attending the conference after it is complete.

"I was surprised," she writes, "when I read the information booklet they handed us as we arrived," she says. Typically, she says, there's at least some sort of sign-in and sign-out process at the beginning and end of every day's session to ensure that those attending were actually present. A.C. notes that she's been at conferences where people might leave for a half-hour during the day after checking in, but they always seem to come back. "If people pay to come learn," she writes, "they generally stick it out, even when the occasional conference speaker turns out not to be as good as hoped."

But at this conference, A.C. noticed something odd. The conference booklet instructed all attendees: "Everyone must sign in on Friday by picking up a name badge and syllabus. If not, you will be marked as a 'no show.'"

That seemed pretty typical. But the next two sentences read: "You do not need to sign in again on Saturday morning. When you leave at the end of the conference, you must sign out by dropping off your attendance sheet."

"I or someone else could sign in on Friday morning, leave, and not come back until Saturday afternoon to get credit for the course," writes A.C. "Is there something wrong with the way the organizer has set this up?"

The right thing, of course, is for A.C. and others attending the conference to show up, sign in, and attend the full conference if they want to receive credit for it -- even if no one will notice if they're not there for almost all of the event. Trying to claim credit for attending an event because it seems simple to do so without getting caught is wrong.

But the right thing for the conference organizer is to fix its registration process so it holds its attendees more accountable for attendance, and so the organizers know who is signed into the room each day, not just on the first morning and the final hour of the conference.

It's not that the organizer shouldn't trust its attendees to do the right thing and show up without having to sign in each day. But if the organizer is putting on a conference and dispensing both information and credits for attending, it should do so in a way that holds itself and its attendees accountable, so not even the slightest suggestion of cheating on attendance comes into play. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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