Overhearing Sensitive Information

By: Together Abroad 06-03-2017 9:55 AM
Categories: * Ethics ,

So many hours a week are spent at the workplace that it practically becomes a second home. We get close to and gossip with work friends, save personal documents on work computers, and leave personal items lying around on our desks. We become so comfortable with our second home that it sometimes leads to forgetting that some of this information is not appropriate for the work place. Employees have become so lax about personal conversations they had in hallways and cubicles thatabout 53% of support staff workers in the U.S. have reported overhearing confidential conversations.

Sometimes this information is revealed to be more than just the issues your boss is having at home. Sensitive information can be regarding stealing goods or information from the company, the layoff of a coworker, or the lie told to a senior executive. When you are the one overhearing this sensitive information, it can be difficult to decide what to do about it. Should you tell someone? Keep your mouth shut? Confront that person? Weighing consequences and opportunities from the knowledge of this information can be stressful.

Is the information potentially harmful to a coworker or to the company? If the answer is no to both of these, it may be best to keep quiet. Especially if what you are hearing is leaning more towards office gossip than actual harm. However, if this information is harmful to either a coworker or the company, then confronting either that person directly or confiding in a trusted HR representative or manager is the next step. The important thing to keep in mind is that spreading information to colleagues or outside of the organization can only cause more harm, and may put you in a situation where you need to explain your part in the leak down the line.

There is a fine line between relaying sensitive information to the appropriate receiver and spreading office gossip to coworkers. If doubt ever occurs, having a confidential meeting with a trusted manager is usually the best way to find out which side of the line the information falls on. The last thing you want to do is to create tension or upset coworkers because of your big mouth. For those that are giving away important and sensitive information through cubicle talk or emails, the Sony email hack should be enough of an incentive to realize that not everything is appropriate to be spread in unclassified ways. Think about how the information might affect coworkers or the company before you start that email or conversation. Leaked information is usually the way that firings start. Do not get caught up in the drama of it all. The safest option is to keep your head down and never leave confidential information lying around for someone to take advantage of!

Ashley Herbert

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