Risks and Rewards of the Empowered Employee

Social media is the communication platform for Y-generation employees. It also provides an ideal way to communicate your ethics and compliance message to them.

Posted by Dawn Lomer in on September 29th, 2011

Today’s corporate information engine is being powered increasingly by social media in the workplace. Employees, with or without the blessings of their employers, can communicate messages about themselves and their companies online and reach hundreds, even thousands, of people.

This comes with significant risks, which are playing out in the courts week after week. But along with the risks come potential rewards if a company harnesses the social media platform to its advantage, using it to power internal education and even its ethics and compliance programs.

New Generation of Workers

As the workforce absorbs more Y-generation workers, the different approaches to communication and vastly differing ideas about transparency and information security are coming to the fore. Social media has become ingrained into work culture.

“Every employee has a broadcast platform now,” says Donna Boehme, Principal of Compliance Strategists, and a recognized authority in the field of compliance and ethics. “You can make rules for your employees to say if you are talking about the company here are some guidelines, but the risk is that you’re not sufficiently engaging your employees, especially the Y generation… If they feel alienated, if they feel that they’ve got a particular topic of disgruntlement with the company, they go out and use their broadcast platform… So that’s a big reputational issue.”

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Along with a social media policy, Boehme suggests that employers provide forums for discussion to increase the “filtering” of information through the company’s culture. “If you love your company, if you feel valued as an individual, which is what the Y generation is always seeking, you might be less likely to go off on your own and use your own broadcast platform to go crazy,” she says.

Sharing is Power

Another social media risk that Boehme sees companies facing is the ease with which employees can give away a company’s proprietary or confidential information.

“The Y generation doesn’t really have the same concept of confidentiality,” she says. “This is the WikiLeaks generation… For this generation information sharing is power, not information withholding.”

Getting the Message Across

Daniel Conroy, CISO and global head of information security at BNY Mellon Corp, spoke last week at MIS Training Institute’s IT Governance, Risk and Compliance Summit in Boston on social and collaborative media and how companies can protect themselves. Along with the business opportunities that social media brings, he also talked about the risks, including regulatory, reputational, legal and technical.

“Organizations must make employees understand that anything posted on the Internet is a permanent marker,” he said.

Boehme’s ideas about getting this message across to the Y generation encompass the best traits of social media.

“If you’ve got a training session on social media, you should use the edginess of social media and social media itself to carry that message,” she says. “Putting it into a written code of conduct is not going to mean anything. If you want to influence modern employees, the Y generation, you have to go to where they live. And they live online.”

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.