If asked to imagine the possible drawbacks of our seemingly ever-increasing impulse to connect online via social networks, most of us would probably suggest the dubious, time-wasting attractions of the likes of FarmVille or even the relationship-ruining potential of these services (one in three divorces in the UK last year cited Facebook). But a new survey suggests another more-surprising possible drawback of heavy social network use: lower ethical standards.
The 2011 National Business Ethics Survey is the seventh such report published periodically by the Ethics Resource Center, but this year’s edition turned up something unexpected. According ERC, “active social networkers,” which the organization defines as those who spend at least 30 percent of their workdays on social networking activities and who make up about 11 percent of employees who engage in social networking,
are much more likely than non-networking colleagues to accept behaviors that have traditionally been considered to be “questionable” or marginal behaviors (e.g., keeping copies of confidential work documents for use in a future job, personal use of the company credit card, taking home company software).
The survey also found that active users are also far more likely to experience pressure to compromise ethical standards (42 percent versus 11 percent of less-active networkers). On the ethical upside, these same active networkers also expressed a greater willingness to share unflattering information about their organizations and co-workers, which one would guess is logically linked to another quality of this group identified by the research: an increased likelihood to report lapses in ethics. These extreme social networkers may be more-frequent whistleblowers, but they also suffer for their outspokenness, being far more likely to experience retaliation for reporting misconduct than co-workers who are less involved with social networking (56 percent versus 18 percent).
The greater likelihood of social networking power users to learn of ethical lapses (or even opportunities to cut corners), as well as their increased likelihood to report violations, makes sense: After all, these are people who are probably receiving and sharing far more information than less-frequent users. But the greater propensity of active networkers to break the rules has no obvious explanation. Perhaps those choosing to utilize social networks to such a degree are naturally inclined to use whatever tools are at hand to get their jobs done rather than stick to the letter of the law (or strictly within the policies of IT) and this correlates with a greater willingness to bend the rules, but that is pure speculation.
What do you make of these findings?
Image courtesy of Flickr user miss_rogue