The Wall Street Journal recently reported some eye-opening results of a survey regarding information theft by employees. Here are some of the most disturbing (though not surprising) findings from the survey:
- 50 percent of employees kept confidential information post-separation;
- 40 percent plan to use confidential information in their future employment; and
- 60 percent say a co-worker has offered documents from a former employer
So what do these statistics say? In short, they say that your employees are stealing your intellectual property.
And here are two more interesting findings:
- 52 percent of employees don’t believe that it’s a crime to use a competitor’s confidential business information; and
- 68 percent of employees say their organization doesn’t take preventative measures to ensure employees don’t use competitive information.
So what do these statistics say? Well, they say that neither your former employees nor their new employers think there’s anything wrong with stealing and using your intellectual property.
These statistics don’t surprise me at all. Theft of confidential information by departing employees is an epidemic. In my experience, it is one of the biggest challenges faced by employers today. Perhaps the single biggest.
And making matters worse is the fact that most employers don’t know that it’s happening. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some things every employer can do to limit the impact of this epidemic:
Have a policy. Employers should have a confidentiality policy that all employees are required to sign—separate from the employee manual is preferable.
Educate employees. Once is not enough. Employees should be required to re-sign the policy each year. Yes, really. This is a very serious problem and there is no such thing as being too proactive to prevent it.
Use technology. Employees walk away with your data in any number of ways but almost always in a way that involves technology, so put technology to work for you. For example, consider utilizing software that alerts IT any time an employee sends a large number of attachments via email. Limit access to Dropbox and similar cloud-storage sites from work devices.
Ask the tough questions. Even if you’ve done nothing to limit electronic theft beforehand, there’s no time like the present. Ask every departing employee to confirm in writing that he is not in possession of any company property (including in electronic form) and promise that, should he later discover that he does have your property, that he will return it immediately.