The Great Divide -- Social Media in Today's Workplace

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In my previous post, I discussed Deloitte LLP's “Ethics & Workplace” surveys.

To find out more about the survey, I asked Deloitte LLP chairman of the board Sharon Allen to provide some additional context.

Given that my only risk-management concern early this week relates to thunderstorms off the coast of South Padre Island, I asked Sharon to step in as a guest blogger today.

Here's what she sent me:

When I was a high school student growing up in the small farming community of Kimberly, Idaho, little did I know that a song from that time could serve as an anthem for something happening in the workplace today. The Beatles' 1967 classic “Hello Goodbye” is a study in contrasts, as are the current attitudes about social media.

Social media has arrived -- and with it, employers and employees are singing very different songs about what constitutes appropriate social networking both on and off the job.

Recently, I commissioned the third annual Deloitte LLP "Ethics & Workplace" survey. We polled 500 executives and 2,000 employees outside Deloitte. Our survey found that 60 percent of business executives believe they have a right to know how employees portray themselves and their organizations in online social networks. Perhaps because nearly three-fourths of the employees in our poll agreed that the use of social networks makes it easier to damage a company's reputation.

However, more than half of employees polled say their social networking pages are not an employer's concern. That belief is especially true among younger workers, with nearly two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-old respondents stating that employers have no business monitoring their online activity.

Yet, despite expressing their right to know what employees may be posting, only 17 percent of executives surveyed say they have programs in place to monitor and mitigate the possible reputational risks related to social network use.

A greater percentage of executives may want to be more prudent, because more than a third of employees surveyed rarely or never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online. And even if there were a clear corporate policy about social networking use, 41 percent say it would not stop the way they behave online.

That should be a concern for brand-conscious executives everywhere. As we've seen all too often recently, offensive Internet postings and viral videos can race across networks at the speed of light. Left in their wake are damaged brands and shattered reputations that may take years to recover. Not to mention jobs and revenues that once lost may be lost forever.

All of us must welcome the inescapable reality that social networking is here to stay -- and that employers and employees need to find a way to bridge the gulf that currently divides their attitudes on this issue.

Establishing policies -- or assuring that existing core policies extend to include employee behavior on social networking sites -- is crucial to helping everyone understand what constitutes acceptable behavior, especially when our survey results indicate that so few companies have addressed the issue.

From the outset, it may be wise to consult with experts -- but not just Internet consultants or executives from companies who have felt the sting of social networking activities gone awry. Organizations and their management might be wise to invite the perspectives of those who are real experts on social media -- members of Generation Y who comprise the most connected generation in history.

However, I believe that our primary focus should be on the powerful role that corporate culture can play in encouraging appropriate social networking. A good place to start may be with business leaders whose personal example promotes the time-tested principles of ethics and values. In fact, in our first "Ethics & Workplace" survey that I commissioned two years ago, 77 percent of those polled cited the behavior of management or a direct supervisor as the top factor influencing their conduct.

While creating and maintaining that “tone at the top” is an important first step, the key is to establish a culture that ensures that an appropriate moral compass is in place -- in the office or out, online or off.

Because of the reputational risks involved, I believe that companies also need to elevate social networking to a matter of corporate governance worthy of vigorous debate. The executives we polled agreed, as 58 percent felt that the reputational risk associated with social networking should be a boardroom issue.

In today's challenging and fast-paced business environment, social media can bring people together in new and productive ways. Through inspired leadership, ethical principles, and an open, values-based culture, businesses can mitigate risk and enhance their reputations.

The time has come for a new anthem.

By working together, we can work it out.

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GRC expert Eric Krell supplies the Business Finance community in-depth articles and commentary examining governance, risk, and compliance.

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