The 2011 National Business Ethics Survey results show a rise in the influence of social networkers and a workplace divide between employees who spend substantial time on social networks and their non-networking colleagues.

Ethics in the Network

The ERC's National Business Ethics Survey (NBES) is published every two years, and the 2011 report is the seventh in the series that began in 1994. The new report shows a rising influence of social networkers in the workplace. In fact, social networkers report far more negative experiences in the workplace than their non-networking colleagues do, with 56% of them reporting retaliation in the workplace compared to 18% of their non-networking co-workers. The study explains:

The co-existence of widespread retaliation and the pressure with historically low misconduct and high reporting is unlike any previous NBES result. These trends seem to be highly influenced by two factors: the lingering effects of the recent recession also the experiences of an emerging group of individuals who spend a significant amount of work time engaged in social networking."

According to the survey report, active social networkers show a higher tolerance for activities that could be considered unethical, such as feeling that it is acceptable to keep copies of confidential work documents in case they are needed for the next place of employment. Whereas 50% of the social networkers feel that this is acceptable, only 15% of their colleagues agree. Social networkers also were more likely (by a five-to-one margin) to say that it is acceptable to do a little less work to compensate for cuts in benefits or pay.

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Social Networkers Affect the Data

The 2011 NBES survey was the first to include questions about social networks and their users. According to the study report:

Among the most surprising findings from the survey is the distinctive experience of active social networkers, defined as employees who spend 30% or more of their work day participating on various social network sites. Their experience is so far outside the norms of their colleagues that it had an outsized impact on the overall NBES data."

Detachment Disorder

Interestingly, active social networkers seem to be less attached to their jobs, with 72% of them saying that they plan to change employers within the next five years, compared to 39% of their non-networking colleagues. Many of the social networkers also said they were willing to share "less than flattering information" about their workplaces via their social networking sites; however, the report says that the social networkers are more likely to share positive comments over negative.

Although the study results indicate an impending ethics dip, it also suggests ways to prevent it. For example, increasing investment in ethics and compliance programs in the workplace might help build a more ethical work environment. So if you want some positive Tweets from your social networking employees, pay some special attention to the ethical culture you foster in the workplace.