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Survey examines ethics issues

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Nearly half (45 percent) of America's workers have engaged in unethical actions related to new technologies during the last year, according to the results of a national study released by the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters (CLU) & Chartered Financial Consultants (ChFC), in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and the Ethics Officer Association (EOA), of Belmont, Mass.

Other significant findings include:

?Nearly 50 percent feel job pressure resulting from the use of high technology.

?A majority feel that playing computer games during work hours and using e-mail for personal use is not unethical.

?Workers under age 30 are less likely to consider actions related to office technology to be unethical than do older workers.

?50 percent said they work with someone who is addicted to the Internet.

The survey, "Technology and Ethics in the Workplace: The Ethical Impact of New Technologies On Workers," underwritten by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and State Farm Insurance Companies, also found that most American workers (66 percent) are comfortable with new technologies, regardless of age.

Nearly half (45 percent) of the respondents admitted to engaging in one or more of 12 unethical actions related to new technologies during the last year, according to Edward H. Miller III, CLU,

CHFC, president of the American Society of CLU & CHFC. The most frequent-ly cited misbehavior is "creating a

potentially dangerous situation by using new technologies while driving" (19 percent).

The next most common unethical behaviors are "wrongly blaming an error you made on a technological glitch" (14 percent); "using office equipment to shop on the Internet for personal reasons" (13 percent); and "copying company software for home use" (13 percent). Of the respondents, 28 percent of those age 30-34, and 24 percent of those with a post-graduate degree admit copying the company's software for home use, compared to 13 percent overall.

"A majority of respondents identified pressure on the job from several sources relating to new technologies," reported Edward S. Petry, PhD, executive director of the Ethics Officer Association. These sources included increased productivity expectations (81 percent); continual need to change/update the technology (80 percent); increase of frustration with co-workers who are not up-to-date (61 percent); less tolerance for errors (60 percent); inadequate manuals and/or training (60 percent); and fear of losing data (51 percent).

Nearly half of respondents see pressure from the following sources relating to technology: overload of data/information because of technology (50 percent); inadequate support from technicians (50 percent); terminology or lingo which is not understood (49 percent) and the decrease of essential person-to-person contact (47 percent).

In all responses pertaining to actual pressure felt, women feel more pressure than men. The largest gender difference, however, was reported in lack of understanding terminology or lingo: 70 percent of women vs. 51 percent of men. Furthermore, women felt unfairly disadvantaged for being less familiar with the latest technologies than men: 39 percent vs. 29 percent.

"New technologies have changed the way we do our jobs and the way we work with one another. We're expected to do more, to do it faster, and we're also working more independently," Petry said. "This increases the risk of unethical and illegal actions."

Workers do not believe the following actions are unethical: playing computer games on office equipment during work hours (49 percent); using office equipment to help your children/spouse do school work (37 percent); using company e-mail for personal reasons (34 percent); and using office equipment for personal reasons (29 percent). Workers under age 30, however, appear much less likely to consider an action related to office technology to be unethical than older workers.

Fifty percent of respondents said others they work with are addicted to the Internet. Two percent of respondents admitted being addicted to the Internet themselves. Job-related Internet/World Wide Web use is reported by 42 percent of employees, but Internet/web use for any purpose is reported by 64 percent.

When asked the extent to which respondents believe 12 actions related to technology in the workplace to be unethical, a majority feel strongly that the following actions are unethical:

?Sabotaging systems/data of current co-worker or employer (96 percent).

?Sabotaging systems/data of former employer (96 percent).

?Accessing private computer files without permission (93 percent).

?Listening to a private cellular phone conversation (92 percent).

?Using office equipment to visit pornographic web sites (87 percent).

?Using new technologies to unnecessarily intrude on co-workers' privacy, such as paging during dinner (70 percent).

?Copying the company's software for home use (65 percent).

?Creating a potentially dangerous situation by using a new technology while driving (67 percent).

?Using office equipment to network/search for another job (66 percent).

?Wrongly blaming an error you made on a technological glitch (61 percent).

?Making multiple copies of software for office use (59 percent).

?Using office equipment to shop on the Internet for personal reasons (54 percent).

The most serious technology-related problems facing our society are:

?Availability of dangerous and offensive material on the Internet (76 percent).

?Invasion of privacy by the government (76 percent).

?Invasion of privacy by businesses (75 percent).

?Loss of person-to-person contact (65 percent).

?Accumulation of personal data in computer databases (64 percent).

?Displacement of workers by technology (60 percent).

?Monopolies in the software or information industries (60 percent).

?Government efforts to limit freedom of speech on the Internet (50 percent).

The study, "Technology & Ethics in the Workplace: The Ethical Impact of New Technologies on Workers" was developed by the American Society and the Ethics Officer Association.

The survey was conducted between Feb. 23 and March 17, 1998. A total of 4,000 surveys were mailed to a cross-section of American workers. The overall response rate was 24 percent, which is more than twice the typical response rate for this survey type.

Founded in 1928, the American Society of CLU & CHFC has 33,000 members who provide personal, family, and business financial services. Its diverse membership includes agents, brokers, attorneys, financial advisors, professors, regulators, and insurance company executives who have met the educational and professional experience requirements of The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

The Ethics Officer Association, the professional association of practicing ethics officers, was formed in 1992. The mission of the EOA is to promote ethical business practices and to serve as a forum for the exchange of information and strategies among individuals responsible for setting the ethics, compliance, and business conduct programs in their organizations.

The EOA currently has nearly 500 members from profit and nonprofit organizations around the world. Practitioners join the EOA to discuss policies, strategies and dilemmas in order to shape practical approaches to issues of common concern.

(The preceding article was produced by the American Society of CLU & CHFC.)

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