National Business Ethics Survey® of Social Networkers (NBES-SN): Risks and Opportunities at Work

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This study was created by the Ethics Research Center (ERC), the research arm of ECI, and made possible in part by support from:
PwC-US and NAVEX Global

The survey of social networkers (NBES-SN) is a focused NBES study of workers in the U.S. who are on at least one social networking site. The awareness and opinions of these employees at all levels within companies were captured to reveal real-life views of what is happening within businesses and the ethics risks they face with respect to these workers.

Key Findings

Social Networking is changing the workplace. Ethics Resource Center data, first in the 2011 National Business Ethics Survey and subsequently in a supplemental survey of social networkers conducted in 2012, make clear that social networking is now the norm and that a growing number of employees spend some of their workday connected to a social network. More than one in ten employees are “Active Social Networkers” (ASNs) who spend at least 30 percent of their workday linked up to one or more networks.

Almost everyone is a social networker.
Three quarters of American workers surveyed in NBES 2011 reported that they belong to one or more social networks and participation is almost certainly higher than that by now. While those under 30 are most likely to belong to a social network, social networking is not just for the youngest workers. More than seven of ten workers (72 percent) over the age of 30 said they take part in social networking activity either at home or at work. Active Social Networkers (ASNs) are different from their peers – and they do skew younger. Workers under 30, for example, make up just a quarter of the total workforce, but represent about 47 percent of ASNs.

The emergence of social networking has serious implications for the workplace.
The sheer frequency of social networking activity is a challenge. Nearly three out of four social networkers (72 percent) say they spend at least some time on their social networks during every workday, and almost three in ten (28 percent) say such activity adds up to an hour or more of each day they spend at work.

Very little of the online time is work-related. One-third of those (33 percent) who spend an hour or more of the workday on social networking say that none of the activity is related to work. Another 28 percent say just a small fraction (10 percent of their online time) has something to do with their job. In other words, a growing number of workers are getting paid for time spent on personal interests.

Social networking creates new risks.
Most social networkers engage in mostly passive activity – looking at friends’ photos, observing Twitter commentary, or seeking information. But a group we call “Creators” are actively posting commentary, writing blogs, and sharing ideas – often about work– for the world to see.

Social networkers are clearly breaking old barriers and talking more freely than ever before about their jobs and their company. They say they think about the risks before posting online and consider how their employers would react to what they post. But social networkers, and ASNs in particular, do air company linen in public. Six of ten ASNs would comment on their personal sites about their company if it was in the news, 53 percent say they share information about work projects once a week or more, and more than a third say they often comment, on their personal sites, about managers, coworkers, and even clients. As a result, workplace “secrets” are no longer secret, and management must assume that anything that happens at work; any new policy, product, or problem, could become publicly known at almost any time.

In addition, active social networkers are unusually vulnerable to ethics risks – witnessing more misconduct and experiencing more retaliation when they report it than their work colleagues. A majority (56 percent) of ASNs who reported the misdeeds they witnessed experienced retaliation as a result, compared to fewer than one in five (18 percent) of other employee groups.

Social networking also offers opportunity.
Social networkers say their companies should jump into social networking with both feet for a variety of purposes, and many would be willing to use social networking time to advocate for their companies. Many companies already use social networking to communicate externally about products and services. Currently, the vast majority of companies use social networking to present a positive brand image and promote good things the company is doing in the community (71 percent and 65 percent, respectively).  Creative businesses can also use social networking to their advantage in terms of workplace ethics, using it internally to reinforce company values and build workforce loyalty and cohesion. More than five of ten ASNs believe that social networking tools can build trust in managers (55 percent) and inform and educate employees on ethics issues that may arise at work (54 percent). As it stands today, however, many of these opportunities are missed. Less than half of all companies use social networking to help senior leadership communicate company values (42 percent); to build trust in managers (36 percent); and to inform and educate employees on ethics issues that may come up in their work (36 percent).

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Content provided by the Ethics Research Center (ERC), the research arm of ECI.

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