Confidentiality is essential in the workplace. Despite — or perhaps because of — the vast amount of information about our lives that’s available electronically, privacy is an increasing concern. So whether you work for a small startup or a huge, nationally known carrier, you must always be sure to keep your client’s information confidential. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing their business and their trust.
You also want to maintain ethical relationships with other companies, both strategic partners and competitors. If allies feel they can’t trust you with their confidential information, they will not want to do business with you. And disclosure of confidential information can damage your competitive edge, especially if your company tries to conceal the breach.
Protecting Employee Information
Within your business, you must maintain the confidentiality of employee data confidentially, too. This is typically the responsibility of your Human Resources Generalist or Department. Personally identifiable information (PII) should only be available to HR staff and the employee whose information it is. This includes things like Social Security numbers and health data.
Information regarding salaries and disciplinary actions also needs to be protected. By failing to protect employees’ privacy, you not only run the risk of losing their trust. That can also mean losing them as employees as well. Additionally, breaches of confidentiality can leave your company facing legal action.
Finally, taking workplace confidentiality seriously creates an environment where employees can feel free to talk to their supervisors and managers about important professional or personal issues.
Protecting Intellectual Property
Another type of confidentiality concern occurs when an employee is aware of important business matters that shouldn’t be made known publically. One very good way to avoid this problem is to have the employees sign a confidentiality agreement. You don’t want competitors having access to trade secrets or proprietary technologies or procedures!
An Action Plan for Confidentiality
So, what else can you do to improve confidentiality in the workplace? Have an employee handbook that details the consequences of divulging company secrets. Depending on the circumstances, responses may range from additional training to probation to immediate termination of employment. Review this information as part of the hiring or orientation process.
It’s also a good idea to offer training on workplace ethics, including confidentiality, on an ongoing basis. Receiving a reprimand for violating confidentiality standards isn’t something you want, whether it’s right after starting a new job or 10 years later.
Remember, once information gets beyond your circle of trust, it likely won’t be long before someone posts it on social media or tells someone outside the company. Then they tell someone, and they tell someone else … When you are told a bit of information in confidence, it should remain that way: confidential.