Social networking sites have opened a whole new range of opportunities for ethical problems on the job. Inappropriate comments and disclosures are just a few easy keystrokes away and employees have become desensitized to the visibility, 'searchability' and longevity of their online words and images. Libel and non-disclosure violation risks are problematic with social networking while reputational risks are both constant and extreme.
Despite the above omnipresent risks, most companies seem to be yawning their way through the many very real ethical and legal risks presented by social networking posts on (or about) the job.
Here are just a few of the frightening figures from Deloitte's 2009 Ethics & Workplace survey:
• Only 22% of executives in their sample said they had formal policies regarding employee use of social networking.
• 24% of their employee sample did not know if their company has a policy for social networking use on the job and another 11% believed that their company has a policy but did not know what it was.
• Although 74% of employees surveyed believed that a company's reputation could be damaged by social media posting, 53% still felt that their posts were none of their bosses business.
For what it's worth, the Deloitte findings are entirely consonant with the anecdotal reports I hear day after day from frontline employees and executives alike. Moreover, in the almost two years since that report, I have see and heard little suggesting changes of significance in either the private or public sectors.
Now, if you are hiring and training your employees with an eye on their ethical decision-making in general, you shouldn't need to be telling them all that much about what to say or not say online-they should, hopefully, be able to come to appropriate conclusions on their own. That doesn't mean, however, that a well-written policy isn't still a good idea; such a policy will both protect you and provide more specific guidance to your employees.
So, can you afford not to have well conceived, well implemented, and appropriately enforced social networking policies? In a word-no. The stakes are simply too high given the significant ethical and legal risks that social networks and social media so easily provide. (And, remember that a well-developed policy will also go a long ways towards supporting the very significant benefits that social media and social networking can and should be providing to your business.)
Christopher Bauer helps companies create and implement high-impact, high-ROI ethics and values training programs. In addition to consultation on program development and implementation, he also provides keynotes and seminars on how to reduce costly employee ethics problems. Information on Bauer Ethics Seminars is available at http://www.bauerethicsseminars.com.