Remember the sheaf of papers you signed off on when you started work? Somewhere in there was your company's official Ethics Policy.
Yeah, feel the yawn coming?
And that’s why nine out of 10 new hires simply sign off on that paper without given it more than a cursory glance.
But today this policy may be under attack.
At an event hosted by The Conference Board last week on Business Ethics & Compliance, I heard ethics and compliance officers from different industries discuss their industry-respective takes on regulatory reform and challenges of instilling ethical behavior in the workplace.
And somewhere in the middle there was suddenly a confession from one of the panelists.
One that surprised me not only because of their acknowledged bafflement with it, but also what followed as an honest confession of not knowing how to deal with it.
They were referring to the new phenomenon called social media.
With Facebook and Twitter blurring the line between personal and private, companies have to deal with a new challenge for their ethics policies, including confidentiality, privacy policies, and reduced productivity. How much company information is it okay for someone to post on their Facebook status, if at all? Is discussing their daily work on a public forum considered a breach of confidentiality? And what if this includes a client name or a product in the making? Lawsuit written all over it?
But the No. 1 concern, according to the panel—which comprised of ethics officers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lincoln Financial and PepsiCo—was where to draw the line between personal and professional. One of the key speakers was Jude Curtis, the chief ethics and compliance officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who discussed his team's efforts in putting together an official "Social Media Policy." Curtis also added that PwC considered their employees' presence on social networking sites serious enough to set up a Social Media Steering Group, which is tasked with continually reviewing their policy as the field evolves.
Pepsi's VP of Compliance, Stephen Noughton added yet another dimension to the discussion by expressing his concern: Does a potential candidate's presence on social media deserve a place in the traditional background check? While the jury is out on this one, as a jobseeker, does that worry us? With industry experts citing social media key for your career success, I'm willing to bet yes on that one.
Finally, the last segment to this conversation:
We are all asked to sign a "Code of Conduct" at work, however, what happens when we flip this?
What about the board signing an ethics policy that asks them to adhere to the triple bottom line principle when making any strategic decisions?
Well, it is, but it might not be for too long as corporate social responsibility gets concretely defined across board rooms and shifts from pure advocacy quests to instrumentally changing strategic direction at corporations.
Ethics will soon have to bridge the gap from being solely an individual responsibility to a conscious common denominator in our business decisions as well. If you'll understand this better in business terminology, it's also called sustainable capitalism.
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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies.
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