My readers might be surprised to learn that when I’m not wearing the burdensome mantle of technology guru, I have done and continue to do considerable study–both personal and academic–in the areas of human behavior and psychology.
In my quest for deeper knowledge, I have learned one thing for certain–human beings operate out of an incredibly complex tangle of longings, desires, drives, defenses and fears, as well as the inexplicable combination of nature and nurture.
I also have learned that in this life, it’s what we do with that tangle of influences–how we steer our personal ship in the world despite our difficulties and shortcomings–that matters most. The way we comport ourselves is central to how others view us, to our success in life and to our personal happiness, assuming what we present to the rest of the world represents who we truly are. To sum it up, character counts.
So, why am I bringing this subject up here? It is precisely because I believe character counts not only for us as individuals but for the companies and agencies for whom we work.
An integral part of living in what we call a civilized society is managing information about ourselves in a responsible way. There are some things most anyone could say about his or her personal life that others would find shocking or off-putting. Most of us, however, have enough sense to limit such disclosures to those who need to know or have a right to know them. It is for this reason we sometimes stop others from revealing personal information with the acronym “TMI” (too much information) or “WTMI” (way too much information).
Certainly, we don’t want to bring censure and disgrace upon ourselves. And for most of us, that goes for our employers and workplaces, as well. Yet, use of technologies such as personal e-mail and instant messaging in the workplace poses the threat of such embarrassing disclosure.
According to Steve Bridges, member of the Technology and Professional Risks Team of Aon’s Financial Services Group, based in Chicago, personal use of technology in the workplace brings obvious risks, such as employees sending out confidential information, even if we’re only sending it to ourselves at home.
“If you’re using your Yahoo! or Gmail account within your corporate network, you’re at risk,” says Bridges. “Yahoo! or Gmail might not have the same security that the company does. Private or confidential information could get out that way.”
There’s also the danger of bringing a virus or other malware into the network, he notes. “One other large concern is if you’re sharing downloaded pirated music or videos, or sexually explicit material. Then it becomes a legal issue for the company and it could impact other employees.”
These are excellent points, but I’d like to suggest that this latter problem is a character issue, as well. What does it say about your company’s character if you look the other way while employees are trafficking in illegal online material within the confines of your workspace? What does it say about your corporate culture if a visitor is walking through the office and sees a pornographic image on someone’s monitor?
I’m not making a judgment here about anyone’s First Amendment rights, but I am saying the way your company presents itself to its own employees–as well as to customers and the rest of the world–is critical to your company’s image and, ultimately, to its success. I daresay that even most advocates of one’s legal right to view pornography would probably draw the line at having it displayed in a professional workplace.
It’s common sense and it’s common business sense. People want to deal with entities they trust–companies that display professionalism and character. Sanctioning illegal or illicit material in the workplace by not having policies about personal use of technology demonstrates poor judgment and questionable corporate character–hardly attributes that will attract customers.
The obvious solution is enforcement of company policies against illegal and illicit technology uses, as well as rules that at least limit personal use of technologies in the workplace. This is not to say that all personal technology use should be banned, but if it is to be allowed, then preventive technology such as e-mail/IM filtering that covers both incoming and outgoing messages is essential.
Yes, it will cost some money and maybe some hurt feelings, but the way your company presents itself is critical to the way it will be perceived. And here’s the best part: By taking care of the “character” issues in your workplace, you also will be taking care of many of the legal issues that could arise. Not only are you operating within the boundaries of the law, but you are showing a trustworthy, professional face to your own employees and to the world.
How do you want the world to see your firm? A good image starts with avoiding TMI in the workplace.