The ethics of a digital workplace

The ethics of a digital workplace

There’s a delicate line between humanizing technology and digitizing humanity, advocates of technoethics believe. The term ‘technoethics’ is a portmanteau of technology and ethics.

Where that line is drawn is a matter of debate, but “HR is aptly poised to initiate and lead this dialogue,” human capital management expert Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith said on Forbes.

Given the absence of a code of ethics in the tech sector, could rapid innovation strip individuals of their privacy and threaten their job security?

HR and the rise of ‘technoethics’

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, the lack of an ethics code can lead to the misuse of tech at the expense of individuals and the community.

“The technology industry has no such code of ethics. But it’s time we did,” social networking platform Idka said. “Last month’s Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted how a lack of ethics can cause serious damage to societies, and even threaten democracies.”

When questions concerning workplace tech arise, HR should be called in to make sure organizations and employees toe the line, experts have recommended.

HR departments play a strategic role in business. They enhance the efficiency and productivity of the workforce, establish workplace standards, and uphold workers’ welfare.

“HR plays a central role in making sure the organization operates ethically,” said Mike Haberman of Workology.

“Performing the role of technoethicists, HR can at least make sure that the proper consideration is given to the people-versus-technology decisions that management teams will make,” he said.

Like the classical definition of ethics, technoethics deals with intangible concepts – of what is beneficial or detrimental – in relation to tangible processes such as how people move about in the world, in their profession and everyday life.

In this case, moral, legal and social codes are applied to the use of technology, addressing issues ranging from data collection to workplace automation to robotic implants.

‘HR must be vigilant’

Big Data, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence prove the increasing complexity of the data now being collected about people and the techniques used to achieve this end.

How far this can go and who ultimately controls data flow are questions that technoethicists address.

"When your smart devices (phones, tablets, wearables, chips, patches, implants) are recording and reporting a continuous stream of data about your whereabouts, your health, your mood, your interactions and your daily habits – to your manager, HR and the organization – will you flinch?" asked Vorhauser-Smith.

In the digital workplace, there is a growing need for HR professionals to become adept at using tech to safeguard against abuse.

HR analyst Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte has urged practitioners to keep updated with advancements, from software and system upgrades to analytics trends.

“We in HR must be vigilant of new technology and constantly research and study how it impacts the workplace and all our management practice,” Bersin said in the industry guide The Rise of HR.


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