The Ethical Dilemmas of Social Media Enthusiasts

Social media enthusiasts have fewer ethical qualms about questionable activity and the time they spend using that social media, which may impede workplace productivity, according to a new survey by the Ethics Resource Center.

 

The findings, which came from the organization’s National Business Ethics Survey, present new problems to companies trying to cope with increased social media use in, and related to, the workplace. Several findings were particularly concerning for businesses. 42% of social media enthusiasts felt it was acceptable to blog or tweet negatively about their company or colleagues, compared to only 6% of other employees. In addition, 50% felt it was ok to keep confidential work documents for their next job, as opposed to 15% of employees who don’t use social media.

 

“Active social media users show a higher tolerance for activities that could be considered unethical,” said Dr. Patricia Harned, president of the Ethics Resource Center. “It appears they are more likely to consider things that are gray areas.”

 

These alarming statistics are bound to raise corporate concerns that social media enthusiasts are blurring the ethical lines at work. But many company bosses are finding it difficult to respond because effectively controlling social media use at work is very difficult and regulating it outside the workplace is nearly impossible.

 

The study also raises potential concerns about the relative productivity of social media users. In particular, 50% of them felt that it was acceptable to work a bit less to compensate for wage or benefits cuts, as compared to only 10% of other employees. That percentage difference is very stark and fits with other, outside evidence that social media use is becoming a productivity problem in the workplace.

 

Specifically, users spent 22.5% of their online time perusing social media, which is significantly higher than any other category. The exact figure for social media enthusiasts is unknown but it is presumably much higher. And, social media users reportedly spent close to half an hour per day on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites in May 2011 and that number is only climbing.

 

Since Facebook chatting and other social media multitasking may reduce working efficiency, that all adds up to a serious and growing problem for employers. How company bosses respond, whether it is to change workplace policies, crack down on use, or relax their policies and become more tolerant of social media activity, will ultimately determine the consequences of these findings in the future.