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John Soat
John Soat
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A Code Of Ethical Conduct For IT Workers

Access to employee data can be tempting, so here are a few simple rules to follow so that we all can get along

I learned a valuable lesson about workplace conduct and the power of people in influential positions when I was younger, and I was reminded of that lesson when I read a recent news story about the work habits of IT personnel ("IT Workers Do Snoop Through Your E-Mails, Private Files,"). According to a security company called Cyber-Ark Software, which surveyed 200 IT workers last month, one in three admits snooping through company systems and peeking at confidential information such as salary data, personal e-mails, private files, and HR background. Cyber-Ark says one IT admin- istrator even laughed out loud as he answered the survey. "Why does it surprise you that so many of us snoop around your files?" he said. "Wouldn't you, if you had secret access to anything you can get your hands on?"

The modern workplace depends upon a certain level of ethical behavior. Your co-workers trust that you aren't sneaking through their desk drawers or rummaging through their files when they aren't around. Fortunately for me, I work out of a home office, so I don't have to worry about that stuff.

The pervasive use of information technology demands an even higher level of trust. There's significant potential for abuse, in the form of excessive monitoring or inappropriate surveillance.

That's why I'm proposing a code of ethical conduct for IT workers. I've taken a pragmatic approach with these five simple rules, one that accounts for the weaknesses of human nature.

1) Never open e-mails with these subject lines: "Notice of insufficient funds," "Here are your latest test results," or "An Inquiry From The IRS"; these are OK to look at: "What I'm going to do to you when we get home," and "About last night ... "

2) Ignore the temptation to notify co-workers immediately when someone in their business unit gets a raise or a significant bonus, except for those making less than that person.

3) PC files are off limits--they're boring, anyway--except for half-finished screenplays, which are, more often than not, unintentionally hilarious; OK to share with colleagues.

4) No surveillance cameras in the bathrooms. Enough said about that.

5) Give co-workers the benefit of the doubt when monitoring the Web sites they access: "Neighbors I'd Like To" might be a community spirit site.

As for that valuable lesson:

When I was a young man, I worked as a baggage handler at a Greyhound Bus terminal. When a bus arrived, I grabbed the luggage out of the side of the bus and carried it from the dock to the baggage room. Travelers went into the terminal and presented their claim tickets to the baggage manager, who then handed them their bags.

One evening, a colleague of mine took a tongue lashing from an irate traveler for how he was handling that person's luggage as he removed it from the bus' hold. After the traveler had left the dock area and moved into the terminal, my colleague turned to me and said, "It amazes me how people think they can treat us like that, after entrusting us with their possessions. What makes him think I won't do this?" He tore off the identification ticket from the handle of one of the bags, walked over to the open door of the lost-and-found room, and threw it deep inside.

What's the lesson? Don't tick off the baggage handlers--or your IT support personnel. Enough said about that.

Got any valuable workplace lessons? And/or an industry tip? Send them to, or phone 516-562-5326.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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