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Social Media Contributes to Ethical Lapses at Work

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Social media has created a culture in which openness and lack of privacy is the norm.












  • Ethical violations are on the rise, with more than 45% of workers admitting to at least one violation.
  • Social media is linked to the increase in ethical violations. Social media users are considered more open to accepting questionable behavior.
  • Social media monitoring tools help keep staff members compliant with your electronics policies.

Despite the number of corporate whistleblowers being at an all-time high, research shows the presence of a culture that promotes ethical behavior in workplaces is at its lowest point in the last decade.

Ethics violations on the rise

A study from the Ethics Resource Center reveals that over 45% of U.S. employees observed a violation of the law or ethics at work. The use of social media appears to be contributing to the problem.

While reporting of the wrongdoing was at an all-time high, so was the backlash against those employees who blew the whistle, the research revealed. More than 1 in 5 employees who reported misconduct experienced some form of retaliation, which ERC President Patricia Harned said spells trouble.

"Retaliation against whistleblowers and pressure on employees to compromise their ethics standards are at or near all-time highs," Harned said. "These are factors that historically indicate that American business may be on the cusp of a large downward shift in ethical conduct."

Corporate ethics downturn

Overall, the strength of corporate ethics cultures is at its weakest since 2000, the report said. The percentage of businesses with weak ethical cultures, 42%, is at the highest level since 2000, which the ERC attributes to improving national economic conditions.

According to the research, ethical behavior slides during periods of strong economic growth because the improved conditions and reduced focus on cost-cutting measures makes employees less fearful of violating ethics rules.

The report shows that the proliferation of social media in the workplace is contributing to the ethical slide in many businesses. Active social networkers are far more likely to experience pressure to compromise standards and to experience retaliation for reporting misconduct than co-workers who are less involved with social networking, according to the study.

In addition, active users of social networks are much more likely to accept behaviors that have traditionally been considered questionable, such as keeping copies of confidential work documents for use in a future job, personal use of the company credit card and taking home company software.

"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," Harned said.

The study also discovered employees are less confident in their own ability to handle ethics situations.

"An ethical culture cannot be built without the full commitment of senior executives and company directors," Harned said. "Business leaders must remain diligent and continue to incorporate ethics and compliance programs into every part of their organizations."

The 2011 National Business Ethics Survey is the seventh in a series of reports that began in 1994. The research was based on surveys of 4,800 U.S. employees.

Advice for companies on how to monitor social media use

There are no set rules on how a company monitors its employees' social media usage. However, policies should be put in place for transparency purposes. You don't want staff to feel violated if you are keeping track of their social media use at work. In the policy, list what is accepted and what is not. Computers at the workplace are the property of the company, and it's only natural to limit what sites are allowed during working hours.

In your policy, dictate what you specifically want the employee to avoid posting. For instance, state that they can't share proprietary information through social media. You don't want employees sharing trade secrets on their social media profiles.

Educate employees on your company's social media policy. During onboarding, make sure the employee understands that limiting social media use is best for both parties. Go over any consequences in case of violations. As an example, you could allow for two warnings before a suspension.

Another strategy is to use software to limit or monitor employees' social media use. The software can block social media sites from being accessed on work computers. Alternatively, you could use a program that sends records of what sites are being accessed and how often. Let employees know about the programs to confirm everyone is on the same page.

Employers are allowed to monitor staff's social media use, search their social media profiles for red flags, and reprimand employees for certain actions online. However, employers are not allowed to discriminate based on race, age, religion or disability found out through social media. According to Workplace Fairness, each state has different social media laws as to whether an employer can request a staff member's username and password. Review your state's laws before developing a social media policy for your business.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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