Social Media and Ethical Workplace Behavior May Not Mix

ethics signRecently, I wrote about a study which found that the more people rely on technology to communicate, the greater the potential there is for them to be, let’s say, less than forthcoming.

Taking this concept a step further, could those little white lies lead to other questionable ethical practices by active users of social media?  Are technologically savvy communicators more prone to exhibit less than ethical behaviors, and if so, what could that mean for businesses?

According to new research presented by the Ethics Resource Center, the answers to those questions have some troubling implications, both from the employer and employee perspective.  In the ERC’s most recent National Business Ethics Survey (NBES), which is conducted every other year and is recognized nationwide as a “barometer” of workplace ethics, those who say they are actively engaging in social media also tend towards  somewhat unethical behaviors.

For example, based on responses to the most recent NBES:

  • Active social media users (those who spend at least 30 percent of their workday in one of the social networks) admitted to being much more likely to bend a workplace rule, such as keeping copies of confidential work documents or making a personal purchase with a company credit card, compared to employees who do not engage as frequently in social media.
  • The social media aficionados also divulged that they might share “less than flattering” information about their coworkers or employers with their network at a higher rate than social media novices.

Interestingly enough, social networkers were also more outspoken on the survey when it came to their employers’ ethical behaviors, as well.  Forty-two percent of the active social media users (versus only 11 percent of those who are not) reported feeling pressured to compromise standards on the job.  Moreover, 56 percent of the active, compared to 18 percent of the non-active social media users, indicated that they had experienced retaliation for reporting something at work.

“It appears that as people become more accustomed to sharing information that was once considered ‘private’ across social networks, the tolerance level for questionable behavior in the workplace has increased,” ERC President Patricia J. Harned, Ph.D. said. “ERC will continue to monitor behaviors of those who actively use social networking to determine how these individuals impact the broader ethical cultures of their places of employment.”

Many more insights from the survey, including how the lingering recession impacts ethical behavior, are available here.

One comment

  • Dear Paige, my post in here would be part of my studies to look into articles that is affecting the current business world, and I’ve found your article very much relevant in digital era we are at and the various ethical views related to this.

    I couldn’t agree on the inclination that technological savvy communicators are more prone to exhibit and sharing confidential information. My point is that the company has various measures that could protect confidential information that should not accessible by others. There is a level of trust that employee-employer share in their working relationship that people give importance that serve as guideline for them to identify which information goes beyond as what is ethical or not.

    Internet and social media creates the infrastructure for faster communication and people primarily uses this to share information, messages and photos with their friends and families. This gives way for the majority of people to greatly benefit out of this instant communication and be socially active that companies must understand they hired people and not machine that should be supported in the workplace.

    People got their personal activities that needed to be attend to and using on-line purchasing, not only save time and energy for the workers, but to the company as well as more quality is spent on their job.

    One of the surveys conducted by SilkRoad, a Chicago-based company, people engaged in social media in workplace has been beneficial with “ 30 percent use it to collaborate to drive new ideas and innovative thinking,” according to the survey.

    We cannot ignore, the increase in the number of people using social media. Take for example the networking of Facebook, from the inception from Dec 2004, it has reached 1 billion users in 2012 (source: Standard and Poor’s, Index Strategy Advisors). This means great benefits can be derived out of that would benefit majority of people and companies.

    For utilitarian ethicist, social networking allows great majority to get connected with others develop their span of friends and maintain relationship with constant communication. There are at least 4 major factor in using social networking as per study conducted (Barnett, W & Wood, J.- March 2012) identified as playfulness, privacy/trust, frequency and ease of use.

    The same way, for utilitarian, businesses by using social media does not only benefit the users but also the companies dealing in virtual market environment by promoting their products and services and incentivising the users with some other offers that could save time and money which is a great benefit to the user/member of the website.

    From the Rights perspective, the network provider as trusted institution has to ensure that right of privacy as part of the contract among all users who can access their website. There is on-line trust that exists between the users and the network that vendor cannot benefit from cheating, website is secured, there is interference of the website and the ease of use (Barnett, W & Wood, J. – March 2012).

    Big companies invest with these websites and trusting to share their information and data that can be viewed by all users. Some may say it’s subjected to hacking of information, but there is security nets provided to protect your data, the same as having camera/security measures in department stores.

    As inclined with the statement of ERC president to” continually monitors the behaviours of those actively involved in social networking is a questionable attempt to discriminate group of people, and the question is how they will gather those information and what would be the basis and criteria of setting as what is supposedly the right culture, a violation as well with the right to privacy of the people and freedom of association which is one of our basic rights.

    On the right of virtues, opening mail is unethical, just like the same as accessing other people information. In view of this, websites and companies have the right to protect themselves by putting firewall and other security measures. Therefore any spillage of data or information deemed confidential is not the fault of the users or network provider, but by the security measures inputted into the system and few people with malice intent to take advantage of the situation.

    Technological gadgets make social networking much convenient. With wireless technology, communication is not only faster but usually available in most places anywhere you will be. People feels more at ease with their work and balance with their families and doesn’t have to be bothered with boredom in workplace as they have other venue to relieve their stress with freedom of communication.

    Contrary to what majority believe that it’s a waste of time and company resources, various studies shows this will not compromise standards at work, but rather have positive effect on workers morale that increase efficiency at work due as humans are not machine designed to work continuously within the 8 hours at the workplace.

    You’ve mentioned about some people feeling retaliation for reporting something at work, this might only happen if there is something wrong at work with people or the company, For Kantian followers, such act of whistle-blowing may seem unethical as they did not conform to the company norms, rules and regulations of confidentiality if such is present, but this will not deter a utilitarian if the information will greatly affect the majority of other people. The benefits of preventing harm to others is the main consideration for the utilitarian follower on reporting something wrong at work or with the people ,and the responsibility of correcting what was shared is with the management of the company. In most cases, disclosing wrong-doing lead to better result as means for check and balance against abuses.

    Bottom-line, allowing people some time to socially communicate with result to better working relationship in the workplace, and changes necessary to protect both employee and employer should be considered in the changing business environment.

    Thank you.

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