Many business leaders have long suspected that active social networkers are a breed apart from other employees. A new report looking at the state of business ethics in the U.S. supports that belief.
The nonprofit Ethics Resource Center (ERC) says that corporate ethical behavior will likely get worse in the foreseeable future. In analyzing its data, the ERC was surprised to find how different social media people are from other employees. Workers who are active on social networks report more ethical lapses, feel more pressure to compromise standards about bad conduct, and experience more retaliation for reporting misdeeds than other employees.
Just what is it about active social networkers that makes them so different? Curtis Midkiff, SHRM’s director of social engagement and an advisor to the ERC report’s authors, views social networkers as harbingers of—and perhaps facilitators of—change in organizations. “They are causing companies to review all aspects of their culture,” he says. This seems to run counter to the stereotypical image of geeky Millennials who spend all day on Twitter and Facebook and shun hard work and direct contact with older colleagues. And these young people don’t own social media; many mid-career and older professionals work and play online as well. What seems to set social networkers apart, says Midkiff, is a different concept of what type of behavior is appropriate in the workplace. Some dress differently. Many communicate differently. While some executives might view employee use of office computers for “personal business” as improper, or at least in conflict with standard policy boilerplate, many active social networkers see—and welcome--a blurring of their personal and professional worlds. “We respond to work e-mails and send meeting invitations at all hours of the day and night,” they say. “We’re putting in extra hours and effort. So don’t bug us if we ‘friend’ someone or order takeout sushi while sitting at our desks.”
This blurring of the personal and professional goes beyond scheduling issues. Social networkers feel a desire, and sometimes an obligation, to chat about conditions in their organizations. Sometimes, conversations in that intimate, private circle of friends—akin to the water cooler conversations of days gone by--expand little by little until they are rather wide and public. Sharing and transparency are inherently good, social networkers feel, whether they are discussing the merits of a video game or the nature of their workplace culture.
Midkiff believes that social networkers want to spread positive messages about their organizations. But, unfortunately, those among them who feel disconnected from their organizations too often become visible, vocal critics. This creates an opportunity for business executives: Get to know the active social networkers in your company, and make them feel valued and an integral part of the business. It’s a lot more fun--and a lot cheaper--than fighting them in court over policies and laws that inevitably lag behind developments in the virtual world.
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