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Active social networkers have business ethics tested more often

Active social networkers have business ethics tested more often

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Research by the Ethics Resource Center suggest that social networkers are four times as likely as their co-workers to face pressure to compromise workplace behavior standards.

The more time that your employees spend during their work day communicating or participating in social networks, the more likely they are to face business ethics dilemmas, according to new data published by the Ethics Resource Center in its 2011 National Business Ethics Survey.

The survey showed that 42 percent of what the organization describes at "active social networkers" felt pressure to compromise standards, compare with just 11 percent of other U.S. workers.

For the purposes of the survey, an active social networker was defined as someone who spends 30 percent or more of their work day participating on social network sites. (The survey didn't say whether or not that participation was sanctioned or otherwise.) Approximately 11 percent of the survey respondents fell into this category, and most were men between 18 and 44 years of age; there were just shy of 4,700 workers surveyed for the report.

The sorts of ethical dilemmas that the survey considers ranges from whether or not it is acceptable to "friend" a client or customer on a social network to whether or not it is okay to copy confidential work documents in case they would be helpful for your next job. Here are a couple of examples where the responses of social networkers are dramatically different than the responses of other workers.

  • 42 percent of the active social networkers said it was "acceptable" to tweet or blog negatively about your employer, versus 6 percent of other workers
  • 51 percent of the active social networkers agreed that it was "acceptable" to do a little less work to compensate for cuts in pay or benefits, versus 10 percent of the other workers
  • 50 percent of the active social networkers indicated that it was okay to take a copy of a confidential work document in case you need them in your next job, versus 15 percent of the other workers

Another survey finding that is worth note for you hiring managers reading this, although it really didn't surprise me: Active social networkers seem to be more content in their work situation than others. Approximately 72 percent of them plan to change employers within the next five years, compared with 39 percent of their colleagues who weren't as active on social networks.

On the brighter side, active social networkers certainly aren't always negative. Close to 60 percent of them said they would be more than happy to post comments about the things that their companies does right or does well.

For some of you, this data may confirm your worst nightmare: that allowing your employers to engage on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or [whatever other social network name you'd like to insert here] will result in a flood of negative or naughty behavior on the part of your employees.

Certainly, social networks expose employees to ethical and moral temptation far more often than those who are locked away in their cubicles with their browsers locked down for anything other than Salesforce.com or Concur or some such software application. But that doesn't mean you should lock them down. Rather, it just reinforces the need for businesses to be more proactive than they are today in development social business etiquette and behavior policies.

Far be it from me to suggest exactly what should be put into your policy, but a good place to start might be with any rules that already exist with respect to external communications or disclosure of company information. Simply reminding employees that these policies are even more relevant within social networks should help nip at least some ethical dilemmas in the bud. Another good idea is to ensure that your human resources, legal, sales, product development and corporate communications teams -- at a bare minimum -- have at least some social network representation. If these departments aren't already studying the social behaviors of your employees, your company should be asking why.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure