Social Networking at Work Is a Major Risk with Large Costs

In addition to jeopardizing the reputation of the organization, improper use of social networking may provide temptations for sharing confidential information about new products or other projects that may enable others to profit illegally from trading inside information. This risk is especially relevant to accountants, who have access to a vast amount of financial and other data.
Social networking may also be altering the nature of reporting relationships at work. More than four out of ten supervisors (42 percent) have some kind of an online connection, such as a friend or follower, who is someone they supervise. Among ASNs, the incidence of such linkages rises to 60 percent. Supervisors who connect to social networks during the day are especially sensitive to how their posts will be viewed. "Among supervisors who spend 10 percent or more of their workday engaging in social networking, 84 percent say they consider what their direct reports will think when seeing the post," the survey notes.
To cope with the evolving importance of social networking in the workplace, the NBES-SN identifies several strategies for addressing these challenges. Organizations should:
  • Develop broad-based strategies and social networking policies grounded in ethics and values, not merely compliance, so that employees are able to handle novel situations in an environment that continues to evolve. Only 32 percent of companies report having policies concerning social networking.
  • Establish a social networking policy sooner rather than later and reinforce it with training to reduce ethics risks for employees and management alike. It's important for rules to reflect today's realities of widespread use during the workday so that workers are more likely to abide by them.
  • Take advantage of social networking to enhance internal and external communications, especially outreach to employees to reinforce the company's ethics culture.
  • Invite social networkers to help shape social networking policy and to help the ethics/compliance function engage employees through social networking.
With social networking now the normal behavior for most employees, employers need to deal with the risks and opportunities it provides. Employees should consider the consequences to themselves as well as their employer of every post they make. The continued growth of social media will only amplify these challenges in the future. 
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Read more articles by Curtis Verschoor
About the author:

Curtis C. Verschoor, CMA, is a member of the IMA Committee on Ethics. He is the Emeritus Ledger & Quill Research Professor at the School of Accountancy and MIS and an honorary Senior Wicklander Research Fellow in the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, both at DePaul University, Chicago. He is also a Research Scholar in the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts. He was selected by Trust Across America as one of North America’s Top Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior in 2012 and 2013. His e-mail address is

©2013 by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA®),; reprinted with permission.

For guidance in applying the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice to your ethical dilemma, contact the IMA Ethics Helpline at (800) 245-1383 in the United States or Canada. In other countries, dial the AT&T USA Direct Access Number from, then the above number.

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