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Employee Transparency and Ethics: How much to say and when you should withhold

May 7, 2009


Transparency is about being open and honest; there is a difference between transparency and spilling every bean you’ve got.  There are times when we must hold on to our beans out of respect for the companies we work for.  It becomes tricky at times for us to know where the line is drawn, where confidentially becomes an issue, or when conflicts of interest arise.  For example, if you work for a restaurant and you know all the recipes to all the secret sauces.  Would it be unethical to give away the recipes to customers who ask, or is that confidential information?  One would only know this if a contract was signed or if a superior were to mention something along the lines.  This is why guidelines are important, especially with social media because information can spread fast and it’s very easy to say too much.  Employees need to know from the get-go what information they can give to clients and what to keep to them selves.

Paull Young, a young PR blogger, said that companies need to set up the framework for their own policies.  He called this, “managed transparency.” Young also told us that we should create “Guardrails.”  These guardrails act of social media policies that prevent employee mistakes.  Telestra, a leading telecommunications and information service company in Australia, has created its own 3R’s guardrail.  They include:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Respect
  3. Representation

These guidelines are set for employees who engage in social media either at work or at home.  Responsibility means ensuring that you do not post material that is obscene, defamatory, threatening, embarrassing, or hateful towards another person or company, especially your own.  If you engage in social media networking, do it in a way that in non-harmful, purposeful and fulfilling.  Don’t share policies with people that you know you shouldn’t.  For example, releasing private information about a co-worker like his or her cell phone number.  Be respectful of your company and let the online community you’re engaging with know that you are an employee of “so and so” and remember that you do represent the company you work for.  Respect people online like you would in person.  And if this is all too much to remember then follow Paull Young’s simple advice and “Don’t be stupid.”  

Other companies that have great policies like Telesta’s are IBM and Intel.  If you’re an employee of company that doesn’t have policies and you don’t know what you can and cannot say, then ask your superior.  If you’re a company and want to pick up a few polices, then read what others have done and train your employees.

Emilee Rose Turcott

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