By Mark Dorosz
VP of Compliance Learning, Interactive Services
The recent election is over, and scrutiny of government and corporate behavior is high. With unemployment at an all-time low, employers can count on employees of all ages in their workforce, with widely varying views on ethical behavior. What one generation called unethical in the past may not be unethical today—but at the same time, millennial employees do have standards they adhere to. It is up to employers to understand these changing times, and acknowledge generational attitudes to compliance.
Millennial Workers and Ethical Behavior
Although labels and stereotypes are often misleading, they can provide coarse outlines into overall behaviors of cohorts of individuals. The youngest workers in the workforce today, Millennials, born after 1980, are considered to be tech-savvy, diverse, and skilled multi-taskers; but believed to lack literacy skills, patience, job place loyalty, and co-mingle work and social lives. Millennials are often, wrongly, thought to lack ethics, but this is incorrect. More often, employers simply do not understand their younger employees’ relationship to the world.
What They See and What They Do
Because Millennials have grown up in a world with social media, they use Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other media the way older cohorts would have used the corner bar or bowling league, as places to network and exchange information informally. Thus, unethical behavior for the company is “business as usual” for Millennial workers, unless they are told otherwise. For instance, one survey of Millennial employees found that:
- 37% admitted to using social networking to learn about their company’s competitors
- 36% had friended a client or customer on a social network
- 14% had blogged or tweeted negatively about their own or another company
- 13% had taken home company software for personal use
At the same time, of Millennials who had observed serious misconduct, more than two-thirds reported it, including such offenses as theft, falsifying expense reports or time sheets, harassment or abuse, and bribery. Millennials, like any other employee, know when something is wrong, illegal, or will harm the company. They simply do not see that social media is “harmful,” any more than older employees viewed gossiping at the bar on Friday night was “harmful.”
How to Correct the Issue
Employers should be aware that this is not a failing of Millennials, that they are not behaving unethically or intentionally harming their company, at least on a first offense. Employers need to adjust their compliance training to specifically target social networking on and off the job, and be prepared to go into detail as to why friending clients or blogging about one’s company must be discouraged. If compliance documents do not cover this area, then steps should be taken to correct that. There is no need to compromise the ethical culture for new technology. Education of employees is possible and help is available.
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Mark Dorosz has written and spoken extensively on learning, compliance and ethics in forums such as CLO Magazine, Training Week and Compliance & Ethics Professional. For the past 15 years he has helped multi-nationals in the US, Europe and Asia build a culture of compliance through learning. In 2014, he won a Brandon Hall Gold Award for his work with Tiffany & Co. Mark is currently a VP of Compliance Learning with Interactive Services; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 (212) 376-5780.