Business Ethics at Work – IBE Ethics and Work Survey – Comments by Chuck Gallagher Business Ethics Expert

December 9, 2012

First I reported on the KPMG survey from India and now the Institute of Business Ethics published their “at work survey” which shows similar results.  Lack of workplace ethics is rising due to the pressures from our worldwide current economic situation.  There’s nothing like a good recession to bring out the worst in folks!  By the way the full report on the IBE’s survey is found HERE.

According to the British Guardian:

right-wrongThe IBE’s ethics at work survey, which was last carried out in 2008, asks employees about their attitudes to ethical issues in the workplace, their perceptions regarding ethical practices in their organizations and what formal assistance on ethical matters their organizations provide for them.

Encouragingly, the majority of British (84%) and mainland European (77%) employees say that honesty is practiced “always or frequently” in their organization.

Although the proportion of British full-time workers who say they have felt pressure to compromise their organization’s ethical standards remains similar to 2008 (9% and 11% respectively), as does the prevalence of an unethical culture (18%), British employees seem to be significantly more likely to experience certain types of pressure to behave unethically than in previous years. The most common of these include meeting unrealistic business objectives or targets (19%) and being asked to take short cuts (14%).

Wanting to help their organization survive was mentioned for the first time as a source of pressure (7%), an indication that the recession is taking its toll on ethical standards.

Of the fifth of British employees who have been aware of misconduct in their organization in the last year, only half of these (51%) say they have reported it. Similarly, of the quarter (28%) of mainland European employees who said they had been aware of misconduct, only half raised their concerns.

As the head of the Ethics Resource Group – an organization that provides ethics training, presentations and consulting to companies worldwide, the statement above that “meeting unrealistic business objectives” creates a significant pressure is true.  Logically when business is booming the NEED to meet an unrealistic objective is reduced.  However, especially during periods of weak economic performance, the NEED increases and pressure seems to mount from all sides.  The most significant part of this problem is if the “unrealistic business pressure” is supported from the top where the discipline for ethics must originate.

To deter unethical and potentially illegal behavior, three things must be present: (1) Delivering swift and consistent justice for unethical actions; (2) Identify the weak areas within your organization and target them for ethical training and attention; and (3) develop ways to foster ethical behavior among leaders and monitor management integrity.  This is the three legged stool from which a company creates a foundation for positive ethical behavior.

Lapses in Business ethics are not just caused by one person!

The report in the Guardian is quite telling:

In business ethics, there are no lone gunmen – the theory that integrity failures are caused by just one person behaving badly. UBS was fined £29.7m last month by the FSA for failures in its systems and controls that allowed former employee Kweku Adoboli to conduct Britain’s biggest bank fraud. Integrity crises are usually the result of a gradual erosion in behavior over time, which develop into an unethical culture, rather than one person acting on their own while everyone else stands by, powerless.

While we celebrate that the majority feel their workplace is one where honesty is practiced, this is undermined by the statistic that a third of those in managerial or supervisory roles in British organizations perceive “petty fiddling” as inevitable.

But why fret about a few biros and A4 pads missing from the stationery cupboard when there are bigger risks like bribery and corruption and health and safety to mitigate against?

Consider the broken windows theory: a building is vandalised with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the vandals break a few more; eventually the building is broken into and squatters move in. The theory is that petty crimes, if unaddressed, create a culture which leads to larger ones.

New York’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, put this theory to practical use in his zero-tolerance of petty crimes such as vandalism in New York. The result was turning around a city that once seemed ungovernable, particularly when it came to crime. Overall crime rates dropped by 44% to their lowest in more than a generation, and the city’s murder rate went down by 70%. Petty fiddling at work is a little like those broken windows.

New research by Dr Muel Kaptein of the Rotterdam School Of Management into why good people do bad things may give cause for concern. Kaptein cites “acceptance of small theft” as something which may indicate a culture susceptible to integrity failure. If small thefts of highlighter pens are ignored, then so are slightly larger ones, like over-claiming expenses or accepting unauthorized business gifts. It doesn’t take long for people to begin pushing those limits, and before long you have a large scale integrity failure on your hands.

A major multinational corporation unnamed states the following in their Code of Business Conduct:  “At XXXXXX assets should be used for legitimate business purposes, incidental and occasional personal use of XXXXXX assets such as computers, telephones and supplies is permitted.”  It is interesting here that Sr. Management recognizes that there is no way to completely control the petty actions by employees so they have defined those actions and made them tolerable.  Yet, there is a challenge that is found in the written policy, namely what is “incidental and occasional personal use?”

The ethics at work survey found that just under half of the UK’s full-time workforce thinks it’s acceptable to take pencils and pens (41%) and make personal phone calls (45%) from work and about a third (30%) said it was OK to post personal mail from work. A quarter think it is acceptable to use the internet in work time and a fifth of British employees feel it is acceptable to “take a sicky”. The survey also showed that there is little difference in attitudes between employees and managers.

If the tone is set by managers that these small ethical breaches are unacceptable, then perhaps the tone and culture will follow. Most people do not start out to be malicious, or to harm the organization or defraud it – they are just trying to do their job.

The challenge so aptly presented in this report is where is the line and perhaps, more importantly, should we tighten the reigns when the NEED increases or is the presentation of acceptable ethical tolerance levels best when dealing with the mundane at work?

Credit is given to: Simon Webley is research director at the Institute of Business Ethics. The Employee Views of Ethics at Work: 2012 British Survey and Employee Views of Ethics at Work: 2012 Continental Europe Survey are both available as free downloads from http://www.ibe.org.uk


KPMG India Fraud Survey – Patterns of Crime – Comments by Business Ethics and Fraud Prevention Expert Chuck Gallagher

December 9, 2012
KPMG India

White Collar Crime up?  Is that any surprise considering the vast changes in the world economy over the past four years?  With high profile cases like Bernie Madoff and a host of others, I have been asked multiple times if we reached a point where “White Collar Crime” may be on the decline.  My response is “heaven’s no!”  In fact, there are three components of an ethical lapse and the proliferation of “White Collar Crime” and NEED is at the top of the list!

When the Economy stinks NEED IS HIGH…

To my left is a graph from a KPMG India Fraud Survey – the entire report is found HERE.    In their report KPMG states that “White-collar crime in corporate India has witnessed a ‘substantial increase’ over the last two years.”

The graph shows the areas where respondents indicated that fraud had taken place.  Interestingly enough, according to the report the incidents of fraud had increased by 10% from 2010 to the same survey in 2012.

According to the KPMG Survey:

Cracking down on fraud is critical for a country that needs investment.

“India is a fast-growing economy. The problem is a level of low confidence in international investors, which stems from corruption,” Rohit Mahajan, partner and co-head, forensic services, KPMG India, said at a press briefing in New Delhi. “Besides international investors, this has also impacted entrepreneurial spirit in India.”

The infringements are of various kinds, with bribery and corruption making up 83% of cases. A large part of the frauds also relate to cyber crime (71%) and diversion of assets (65%). The sectors most affected are financial services (33%) and information and entertainment (17%), according to the survey.

Most frauds (85%) are investigated internally and very little of the money is actually recovered, the survey said. The most effective methods for detecting frauds are whistleblowers, internal audits and data analytics.

The challenge represented by this report is not limited to India.  Other data suggests that similar patterns of fraud and white collar crime exist in all developed economies especially those whose development has been spurned by rapid economic growth.  India and China for example.  The challenge becomes how to stop the proliferation of white collar crime?  Policies alone will not be the most significant deterrent. We must stem the gap between ethical policies and practical behavior.

Often misconduct either never gets reported or when reported is somehow never escalated beyond direct managers.  This silo of data prohibits effective solutions when combating white collar crime.  For purposes of this post however the primary value is to observe the patterns of white collar crime so organizations will have an intelligent methodology to target abuse and curb unethical and potentially illegal practices.

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

As the founder of the Ethics Resource Group, I work with Companies, Associations and Universities bring awareness of Ethical Choices and how to help Employee and Members stay within the ethical boundaries.  For more information contact me at chuck@chuckgallagher.com or visit chuckgallagher.com


Bottom Line or Business Ethics – Which is more Important? Judith Samuelson’s article discusses – Chuck Gallagher Business Ethics Speaker comments…

July 21, 2012

There have been a flurry of articles lately about what and how business schools teach business ethics.  The most recent, an article written by Judith Samuelson on the HUFF Post Business section states the following:  “Research conducted by the Aspen Institute suggests that ethics IS taught in business schools, and, increasingly, with an eye to making it stick by embedding it in orientation programs, “learning journeys,” core course work and hands-on experience.”

It is in the first part of her article that I take exception.  As a business ethics speaker and author I see first hand what seems to be the norm for business ethics offerings in b-schools and it’s pathetic – at least that’s my opinion.  Samuelson goes on to say, “Business ethics goes by many names and the vast majority of schools in the Institute’s ranking of business schools require ethics or something that goes by the name of “social responsibility,” “social enterprise,” “social impact” or “leadership and values.””

REALLY?  Social responsibility?  Social enterprise?  Leadership and values?  Come on…you can call it what you want, but if you don’t teach beyond the theory of what is socially acceptable or how leadership intersects moral norms, you effectively have little more than just fluff!  Theoretical fluff…I would call it and that has little impact in the real world when faced with split second decisions that have an impact far beyond the moment.

One clue comes from the inside. Luigi Zingales, a titan of the academy of finance who teaches at the University of Chicago, argues that business education across the disciplines needs to move from a stance of “values neutrality” to one where students are exposed to the moral decisions that permeate the core of business. Zingales suggests we deliver “ethics” in accounting and finance rather than a course labeled Ethics, which is bound to turn off motivated students looking to get ahead.

Interesting paragraph by Samuelson.  Intriguing that Zingales wants to hide ethics in some other course because it turns off motivated students who want to get ahead.  I have an alternate suggestion…  Educate students with the course – “How to avoid an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs” – in other words make ethics real and alive.  What do the professors know about the real world of federal prison, how one turns to the dark side and what happens when that happens.  Pardon the bluntness, but perhaps students should be scared sh*tless and know the real world implications of their (sometimes misguided) desire to get ahead.

Samuelson shares: To the contrary — research also suggests that the big take away from b-school is the same one that permeates board rooms. Ethics are important, but earnings-per-share is the guiding principle. Remember the ethics handbook distributed to each employee at Enron? The more compelling and well compensated message went something like this: We exist to make money. “Profits,” aka “shareholder value,” is the most important metric. We all benefit when the stock price goes up — and employees who make it happen will receive the most. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead. EPS is the main meal. “Ethics” is desert.

Samuelson’s article approaches the education of business ethics in a focuses thought provoking way.  Nice article.  I, on the other hand, would love to share a good dose of reality into the minds of the students helping them connect the dots between choices and consequences.  Perhaps a semester of real world example where the students choose among a set of choices giving them an opportunity to see which one’s result in career destruction and arrest would have far more impact.  Maybe we should call it:  Career Destruction and Prison – the Ethics Course YOU Won’t Forget!

What do you think Judith?

Photo by Clay Bennett – see claybennett.com


Business Ethics education – moving beyond what’s illegal…how about focusing on choices and consequences!

July 19, 2012

For the past several days I’ve been noticing a series of articles about Business Ethics education and what should be taught.  Today I see Felix Salmon’s article: Business ethics need to move beyond what’s illegal where he says we should be more worried about unethical behavior in general rather than just teaching how to avoid criminal behavior.  I agree.  However, I would challenge Salmon in his belief that Business Ethics education even teaches about unethical criminal behavior.  From my experience speaking to a number of business schools as a business ethics speaker, I have found in polling students that the level of education related to business ethics centers around ethical theories rather than practical real life application – whether criminal or not.

Salmon shares the following: There are interesting ethical debates to be had as to where to draw the line: for instance, all those “free offers” which require you to hand over your credit-card details and then bill you regularly unless you cancel. They prey on cognitive limitations, I’d say, and are less ethical than companies which don’t do that. Should business-school professors tell their students that they should avoid implementing such schemes? I don’t know. But I do think that acting ethically, even if such actions are legal and don’t maximize profits, is something that many more business-school students should be encouraged to consider.

I find it interesting that Salmon’s example implies a certain judgment regarding the rightness or wrongness of certain actions.  For example, if I ask a group of people is it ethical to kill someone, the majority would say a resounding NO.  But, if your child were being attacked and in imminent life threatening danger, would it then be ethical to kill the perpetrator – I find the answer becomes a resounding YES.  So…ethics are based on the rightness or wrongness is certain situations.  Back to Salmon’s example.  Is it ethical to offer your free credit report with hidden language that you’ll be updated monthly automatically with a charge to your credit card?  Salmon seems to judge NO.  I say it is a function of the business you’re in.  If that is your business model and that of your competitor, then it would be challenging to find a lack of ethics in a model that works.  Sure…there are those who think such a model should be banned, but until it is…it is legal and ethical.  No different than selling spirits or cigarettes.  Both are bad for you and thereby potentially unethical to sell, but unethical – NO!

However, at the risk of getting off track from Salmon’s fine article…it would seem that the point of teaching more than just legal and illegal makes sense.  The question for me is – are we teaching legal and illegal and exposing the choices made have consequences that follow?  I don’t think so…at least not nearly enough.  Theories are fine, but practical application teaching is far more effective in my opinion.  For example, I was consulting with a fellow just a week ago who was convicted of conspiracy.  Here’s the simple truth, if a company (or people within the company) conduct unethical illegal acts and you don’t report it then you may be found guilty of conspiracy.  Seems to me to be more of a deterrent to unethical behavior if folks know the dire consequences that follow unethical and illegal behavior.

What are your thoughts?


Business Ethics as a Core Course in Business Schools? What a novel idea…or do you prefer an Orange Jumpsuit and Handcuffs?

July 18, 2012

What a novel idea is right…  It seems that what is OBVIOUS sometimes is missed by the masses.  Honesty, integrity, and ethics are – or should be – the core foundation for which we operate in life.  Yet, as Luigi Zingales points out in his article: “Business School should count ethics as a core course” it appears that all to often those who are at the top of the business food chain seem to forget the core of business fundamentals.

Zingales, in his article, states: “Recent scandals at Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and other banks might give the impression that the financial sector has some serious morality problems. Unfortunately, it’s worse than that: We are dealing with a drop in ethical standards throughout the business world, and our graduate schools are partly to blame.”

The problem – at one level – is academics seem to be more concerned with theory than practical application.  Again, Zingales shares the following:

Most business schools do offer ethics classes. Yet these classes are generally divided into two categories. Some simply illustrate ethical dilemmas without taking a position on how people are expected to act. It is as if students were presented with the pros and cons of racial segregation, leaving them to decide which side they wanted to take.

Others hide behind the concept of corporate social responsibility, suggesting that social obligations rest on firms, not on individuals. I say “hide” because a firm is nothing but an organized group of individuals. So before we talk about corporate social responsibility, we need to talk about individual social responsibility. If we do not recognize the latter, we cannot talk about the former.

I agree!  Ethics theory – while valuable – doesn’t go far enough to teach those who will face practical application what to do and when to do it when faced with pressure and temptation.  Theories are wonderful, but how many of us think about theory when faced with real life challenges in real time.

As a business ethics speaker, I was set up as the keynote speaker at a university in Canada.  My background was hidden from the faculty as the Dean of the Business School…wanted my presentation to impact both the student attendees as well as the faculty guests.  To that end, as we prepared to share dinner together before the presentation, one of the professors asked me a simple question – “What theory of ethics do you follow?”

That question caught me a bit off guard as my mind raced to formulate an appropriate answer.  Then it hit me…  The answer just flowed from my mouth – “The theory that keeps you out of federal prison!”

“Oh” responded the professor, and quickly he found company somewhere else.  Discomfort created by my response is just what needs to take place when teaching ethics.  We, all too often, make ethics some luke warm course to fill a curriculum and fail to teach the real world application of what happens when ethics fail.  Zingales says:

The way to teach these ethics is not to set up a separate class in which a typically low-ranking professor preaches to students who would rather be somewhere else. This approach, common at business schools, serves only to perpetuate the idea that ethics are only for those students who aren’t smart enough to avoid getting caught.

Rather, ethics should become an integral part of the so-called core classes – such as accounting, corporate finance, macroeconomics and microeconomics – that tend to be taught by the most respected professors. These teachers should make their students aware of the reputational (and often legal) costs of violating ethical norms in real business settings, as well as the broader social downsides of acting solely in one’s individual best interest.

So here’s the deal…if your business school isn’t committed to teaching practical ethics then you can’t expect graduates to apply ethics in practical day-to-day applications.  What is practical ethics – perhaps it’s ethics applied in such a manner that it keeps you out of an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.

Your comments are welcome


Ethics in writing – Interesting article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education!

August 14, 2011

Universities Get Advice on How to Avoid Ghostwriting Scandals in Research Articles

By Paul Basken

Universities have been struggling for years with the problem of researchers who let industry-financed ghostwriters draft biased summaries of their work for publication in medical journals.

They’re now getting some blunt advice on how to stop it, including from perhaps the most qualified experts: the ghostwriters themselves.

In a pair of articles published Tuesday by PLoS Medicine, two professional medical writers outlined changes that both universities and the journals could make. One suggestion, offered by Linda Logdberg, now contrite about her role in ghostwriting, is straightforward. The universities, she points out, could simply provide their researchers with their own professional writers.

“My recommendation is to take out the middleman,” said Ms. Logdberg, a biologist once associated with Columbia University who now teaches science to public-school students in Georgia.

In the other PLoS Medicine article, Alastair Matheson, a professional medical writer who works from both Britain and Canada, suggests that the scientific journals adopt new guidelines to more strictly identify the contributions of their authors.

Ms. Logdberg and Mr. Matheson are offering their ideas at a time of still-mounting legal and political pressure on both universities and the journals to crack down on ghostwriting. Just last month, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor filed a complaint with federal investigators accusing his department chairman and four colleagues of publishing under their names an article that was ghostwritten by employees of a pharmaceutical company and that made unsupported claims for one of its best-selling drugs.

The allegations by Jay D. Amsterdam, a professor of psychiatry at Penn, were promoted by the Project on Government Oversight, an advocacy group, as grounds for the university’s president, Amy Gutmann, to be removed by the Obama administration as chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Push to Make Authors Liable

Others are suggesting even harsher tactics. PLoS Medicine published an article last week by two Canadian law experts, Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens of the University of Toronto, who suggested pursuing legal action against researchers who allow their names to be placed on articles they didn’t actually write.

Legal action would be justified because medical-journal articles attesting to the safety or efficacy of a drug or a medical device are often cited as authoritative in court cases, wrote Mr. Stern, an assistant professor of law, and Mr. Lemmens, an associate professor of law and medicine.

Researchers at a series of major American universities, including Brown, Emory, Harvard, Stanford, Tufts, and Yale, have faced allegations in recent years that they’ve signed their names to medical-journal articles written by others.

Such ghostwriting incidents have included companies promoting medications like Avandia, a diabetes drug, and Vioxx, an arthritis drug, both of which were later found to be associated with elevated risks of heart attack.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has been urging its members to crack down on researchers who allow their names to be placed on articles they didn’t actually write. In a 2008 report, it listed ghostwriting among a series of evolving practices through which companies try to influence medical professionals, and it suggested that academic medical centers forbid it entirely.

But Mr. Matheson, in his article in PLoS Medicine, said ghostwriting continues, in part because medical journals don’t have clear-enough policies to prevent it. He suggested that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, which represents the leading research publications, revise its authorship guidelines so that those who prepare the initial draft of a scientific report, including those working on behalf of a company, are listed as full authors.

A spokesman for the ICMJE, as the editors’ group is known, said it would consider Mr. Matheson’s suggestions as part of an overall policy review now under way. However, said the spokesman, Michael Berkwits, a physician and an editor at Annals of Internal Medicine, “no ICMJE guidance or standards can fully prevent scientific misconduct or replace the need for critical appraisal by readers of scientific work and its provenance.”

Another group of experts, writing last month in the scientific journal Society, made a similar suggestion. The group—Jonathan Leo, a professor of neuroanatomy and associate dean of students at Lincoln Memorial University, in Tennessee; Jeffrey R. Lacasse, an assistant professor of social work at Arizona State University; and Andrea N. Cimino, a graduate student in social work at Arizona State—also suggested that all authors be required to sign a statement pledging that no ghostwriters were involved in their work.

Shifting the Burden to Universities

Ms. Logdberg, meanwhile, suggests that universities simply take away the incentive for ghostwriting. Researchers often need help writing up their findings, and if they had that help available to them on campus, they’d be far less eager to accept offers from companies, she said.

Universities, however, aren’t likely to embrace the idea, said Carrie D. Wolinetz, associate vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities. Universities already are struggling to cover operating costs from the share of money allocated to them from federal research grants, and they couldn’t now be expected to also pay for a new layer of staff writers, Ms. Wolinetz said. “Universities simply couldn’t afford this,” she said.

Universities nevertheless are taking the matter seriously, Ms. Wolinetz said. Many have toughened their policies governing financial conflicts in recent years, she said, and they’re expecting even stricter regulations soon from the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s leading provider of money for academic medical research.

Ms. Logdberg, though, suggests the problem may have some roots in university culture itself. She said she drifted into professional ghostwriting after initially working at a company where she wrote summaries of medical journal articles in layman’s language for customers such as lawyers and nutritionists. The work slowly grew objectionable to her as some larger companies with public-relations staff later rewrote her material in favor of their products, she said.

“I started out in a place that I thought was quite academically defensible,” Ms. Logdberg said. “The immorality to me is not the ghostwriters. It’s the physicians or the authors: me drafting something and having someone else sign his name. I’m not the one morally culpable there, to me at least. It’s the person who goes ahead and does that without giving me credit.”

She mentioned in the PLoS Medicine article that she left her last academic position after being told she was “unacceptably insubordinate” for expressing a reluctance to write anything that someone else later claims as his own. In the interview, she identified the incident as occurring at Helen Hayes Hospital, north of New York City, where doctors are supplied by Columbia University. She left that academic environment, she said, after a doctor asked her to write a grant application that he planned to submit to the National Institutes of Health without her name on it.

Although the expectation seemed standard in the academic culture that surrounded her, Ms. Logdberg said she could not accept it. “I don’t want to write even a memo and have someone else sign their name to it,” she said.

QUESTION: Do you think that it is o.k. to have your idea written by a ghost writer and claim credit for authorship?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


Business Ethics Question: Should Company’s track employees Social Media activity?

August 9, 2011

BUSINESS ETHICS 101 – Should an employer attempt to protect his/her company’s assets and/or reputation by monitoring their employees social networking practices?

With so much riding on corporate ethics, should an entrepreneur try to protect his or her company’s reputation from employees’ loose, careless and sometimes dangerous social networking practices?

The following news release from Kansas State University asks some challenging questions:

Monday, Aug. 1, 2011

GAME CHANGER: BUSINESS ETHICS EXPERT WEIGHS IN ON MONITORING ONLINE IDENTITY OF PROSPECTIVE, CURRENT EMPLOYEES

MANHATTAN — Should businesses monitor the social media activities of their employees? A Kansas State University business ethics expert says the practice can be a double-edge sword.

Such monitoring is available through companies like Social Intelligence, which provides businesses with archived data from social media sites for use in preventing online damage to their reputations. But the data also can be used to screen potential employees and to monitor the social media activities of current employees.

“I understand the need of a business to protect its reputation,” said Diane Swanson, professor of management and chair of a business ethics education initiative. “But in terms of employees’ rights, the practice coexists uneasily with the expectation of personal privacy.”

Use of Social Intelligence could create considerable changes in employee communication, Swanson said. Potentially, the practice could create a climate of fear and distrust. These effects could be detrimental to morale and hurt productivity.

To prevent such a situation, Swanson recommends that companies craft policies and provide expectations of employee’s online conduct. This would shift the emphasis from monitoring to creating shared understanding between employers and employees. Further steps would also be necessary.

“A company should provide full disclosure of its monitoring practices and the consequences employees would face if they violated stated policy and hurt the business’ reputation,” Swanson said.

Without such full disclosure, an individual employee would be operating without the benefit of knowing important rules of conduct. This could be construed as unfair, especially given the relative power of large organizations compared to that of lone individuals, Swanson said.

The approach is also necessary because of the lack of laws regarding companies like Social Intelligence. Data collected by Social Intelligence follows the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It also does not include basic demographic information. But the monitoring and screening can provide any message or tweet deemed worthy of mention. The approach could prove negative for businesses if valued employees are ousted or alienated in the process, Swanson said.

“If a business is worried about this, the best way to handle it proactively is for the expectations to be laid down when employees are hired,” Swanson said. “This should be followed by training sessions and discussions related to performance evaluations. That way, management can strive to head off problems and be part of the solution instead of being viewed as heavy-handed.”

Swanson suggests the loss of personal privacy in social media activities is emblematic of larger societal trends.

“We are getting used to what could be considered violations of our privacy from what has been happening with government practices and now on the corporate side,” Swanson said. “Such practices cause tension in a society where citizens traditionally value individualism and look to the law to protect the expectation of privacy.”

Because online surveillance appears to be proliferating, Swanson believes that ultimately public policy and the courts will establish more definitive guidelines.

“The problem is that technology outpaces the ability of the law and public policy to keep up,” she said.

Meanwhile caution should be exercised.

“The more people are aware of this practice, the more they will be empowered to make smart decisions,” Swanson said.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Monitor Social Media activity is ethical or unethical?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!