Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Social media stokes workplace privacy fears

AVG Technologies study reveals half of adults believe social media has eroded their privacy in the workplace

More than half of adults (53 per cent) that participated in our survey believe privacy in the workplace has been eroded with the proliferation of social media, reveals AVG Technologies’ latest Digital Diaries study, Digital Work Life. The seventh instalment in AVG’s Digital Diaries series includes responses from 4,000 adults in ten countries in relation to cyber-bullying in the workplace.

The study found that mis-use of social media infiltrates the workplace with often negative effects on employees’ privacy, forcing many to switch off or limit their use of social networking sites. One in ten respondents discovered secret discussions about them online were initiated by colleagues using social media, and 11 per cent have had embarrassing photos or videos taken at a work event and uploaded onto social media sites. This is as high as 19 per cent in Spain and 14 per cent in the UK. A small number of all adults (6 per cent) even found themselves subjected to unwanted romantic advances through online media, and in the US this number rose to one in ten of all adults surveyed.

As the use of social media increases for both personal and professional purposes, the privacy many workers value and expect is slowly diminishing through employee mis-use and cyber-bullying. To prevent personal information from being circulated at work, many adults are turning away from social media altogether. Of those that agreed social media has eroded their privacy at work, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) now avoid posting on social networks that have caused them privacy concerns, while 23 per cent limit their posts. More than half (53 per cent) are more careful about what they post.

Tony Anscombe, AVG’s Senior Security Evangelist, said: “This study highlights the need for a combination of greater education around social media alongside increased attention and care by both employees and employers to their social media etiquette at work. And we’re not just talking about employees remaining responsible for what they post online on social networks and ensuring it is not bringing themselves or their company into disrepute or harming their colleagues; employers can trip themselves up just as easily when managing the company’s own social media presence. Until everyone is clear about exactly what is and isn’t acceptable online behaviour, trying to enforce policies will just fail, leaving the door open to cyber-bullying and invasion of privacy.”

Jenny Ungless, an independent HR Consultant and life coach, commented on the findings:

“While you can’t completely control what people say about you online, you can control the ‘ammunition’ they have against you. Being more careful about your posts on social networks or ensuring your privacy settings protect your personal information are just a few steps you can take. The research shows adults are now finding themselves in unchartered territory when it comes to social media in the workplace. Having to ward off colleagues’ romantic advances online, suffer the embarrassment of unwanted personal photos seen by colleagues or have personal details from social networks used against you, are all things that adults haven’t typically had to deal with. We often talk about bringing work home with us, yet little has been done to date to tackle our home-life now being taken into the office and the possible implications of this.”

Other key findings include:

  • Forms of cyber-bullying: Four out of five (82 per cent) of those adults surveyed, believe that sending unpleasant or defamatory remarks to or about a colleague using digital communications constitutes cyber-bullying (93 per cent in UK and New Zealand). Other forms of cyber-bullying include posting negative comments on a social media site about a colleague’s appearance at a work event (79 per cent) and criticising a colleague behind their back through email, instant messaging, social media or SMS (69 per cent).
  • Incriminating or embarrassing activity online: Nearly one in ten (nine per cent) has had a manager use information against them or a colleague which has been found on a social media site. This is highest in the US (13 per cent) and Czech Republic (12 per cent).
  • Cyber-bullying driving workplace confrontations: Cyber-bullying can easily spill over into heated debates in the workplace with more than half (51 per cent) of surveyed adults admitting they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were the victim of cyber-bullying. This is as high as 65 per cent in Germany, 56 per cent in France and 54 per cent in Czech Republic. One in 10 (11 per cent) would retaliate to cyber-bullying through digital communication.
  • Cyber-bullying policies: A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) are not protected from cyber-bullying as workplaces do not cover this within existing policies. Only 37 per cent of all adults know of a comprehensive policy, which covers cyber-bullying, in the workplace. This is highest in Australia (57 per cent) and the UK (51 per cent) and lowest in France (20 per cent) and Germany (23 per cent).
  • Social media responsibility: Half of all adults surveyed (50 per cent) believe their company is responsible for the online behaviour of employees during work hours if they are using their personal social media accounts. Sentiment is felt strongest in Canada (63 per cent) and the US (61 per cent) while only 27 per cent of Germans agree with this. Outside of work hours, only 16 per cent of all adults agree that companies are responsible for employees’ online behaviour.