The tech sector suffers from a shortage of technically able employees, particularly in sought after sectors such as cybersecurity. This gives tech workers power - not only to pick and choose their employer with relative fluidity - but also to exert pressure on the firms they work for. Now, research published by the independent think tank DotEveryone, has revealed that business morality is a primary consideration that leads valuable tech workers to quit their jobs.
The study discloses that one in five UK tech workers who notice their employer engaging in policies that could have “negative consequences for people or society” end up quitting. According to the research, job migration costs firms $38,000 every single time.
Just under 40% of those tech employees say they turn to their “internal moral compass” to judge the firms they work for. So, what motivates that internal compass? And what are the most crucial things that inspire tech workers to move on?
Privacy or the high road
Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the emergence of GDPR in Europe, privacy has become a central concern for both consumers and employers. For tech sector workers, this has led to much closer scrutiny of data practices.
Tech employees understand that if something goes wrong - and the firm they work for suffers a data breach - they could end up with an undesirable black mark next to their name, or worse, the potential for liability.
Dawn McGruer, founder of Business Consort, told ProPrivacy that tech employees have good reason to shy away from firms that provide insufficient training:
“GDPR was sold with the tag of huge fines and this put pressure and spread panic across employees.”
McGruer told us that it is vital for firms to make efforts to “demystify new policies” and to ensure that education is happening “across the business” to “reduce the strain and evenly spread responsibility.”
Kingsley Hayes managing director at data breach and cyber security specialist Hayes Connor Solicitors reminded ProPrivacy.com that, “data breaches are often a result of human error rather than cyber-attacks.” Tech employees that explicitly understand this can end up feeling anxious - and may become uncomfortable working for firms perceived to be at higher risk.
McGruer believes that tech employees are becoming increasingly aware of how reputation can negatively affect their ability to gain future employment. “A breach and violation in trust never impacts positively,” McGruer told us, before adding:
“A bad reputation can have long-term implications for those wishing to gain employment over those who don’t have such associations.”
Anthea Morris, co-founder and IT Director at Better2Know is directly involved in ensuring GDPR compliance at the firm. Morris told ProPrivacy.com:
“I can see digital privacy becoming a reputation issue that may affect people choosing to apply for positions, with this trend increasing in the future. The challenge then may become how to promote your reputation in privacy.”
According to DotEveryone, 38% of tech sector employees have used web search results to assess the potential consequences of their position and to better understand their company’s reputation with the general public.
Hayes points out that tech workers are likely being influenced by consumers who are “increasingly aware of their data privacy rights, particularly in the advent of GDPR.” Hayes told ProPrivacy:
“There is also a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of consumers’ private information with news of data breach incidents, across both the private and public sectors, regularly hitting the headlines.”
Hayes told us that he has represented clients “who have not only suffered actual and potential financial losses following a failure by an organization to adequately protect their private data, but individuals who have also suffered significant psychological damage as a result.”
This emotional and psychological impact (caused by the mishandling of sensitive data) makes privacy an incredibly compelling issue. It also explains why tech workers’ are increasingly motivated by consumer experiences and opinions.
In 2017, Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, was forced to resign after it emerged that the company had provided US intelligence agencies with backdoors into millions of people’s emails. Those revelations led to outrage - and directly affected the value of the company - which was in the process of being acquired by Verizon.
This year, two senior Facebook employees have already quit following disagreements with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, left in March - admitting that he could no longer align himself with the service.
Chris Daniels, who previously ran WhatsApp, also quit following announcements of plans to more closely combine Whatsapp, Instagram, and Facebook. That idea was met with criticism from privacy advocates who fear it will lead to more corporate snooping - and appears to have directly influenced the former employees’ decisions to leave.
It is not just workers at the top of the pile who are likely to quit, either. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey, 49 percent of Millenials and 61 percent of GenZers said they would quit positions “in the next two years” if their dissatisfactions were not addressed. From the survey:
“Younger generations are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to supporting businesses that make a positive impact on society. Many say they will not hesitate to lessen or end a consumer relationship when they disagree with a company’s business practices, values or political leanings.”
A two-way street
For firms whose policies are leading to a deteriorating reputation - the costs can be massive. Employees often leave with an understanding of fundamental business practices, trade secrets, and with a familiarity of intellectual property. There is also a danger that firms may not be able to fill the vacuum created by those resignations (with equally able talent).
On the other hand, businesses that can demonstrate a genuine desire to protect consumer privacy are likely to find themselves increasingly attractive to both consumers and tech sector employees. DotEveryone suggests that “counter to the well-worn narrative that regulation and guidance kill innovation” their research demonstrates that they “are now essential ingredients for talent management, retention and motivation.”
Sunita Bose, Managing Director of Digital Industry Group Inc, an association whose members include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Verizon Media recently commented that:
“We believe the best regulation for the online world arises when industry, government and the community work closely together.”
GDPR is a positive step in the right direction, and similar legislation is emerging around the world. However, in the US where a federal privacy bill has been proposed to supersede stronger state-level legislation, consumers and tech sector workers need to stay vigilant to ensure that consumer privacy is given the importance it deserves.
Speaking at today's International Grand Committee hearing on big data, privacy, and democracy, Shoshana Zuboff summed it up perfectly when she commented that "surveillance capitalism has thrived in the absence of law" before adding:
"I take that as a positive sign because what this means is that we haven't failed to reign in this rogue mutation of capitalism. The real issue is that we haven't really tried."
With that in mind, there has never been a better time for tech sector employees to exert influence and wield power over the firms they work for. Doing so has the potential to influence not only their employers’ decisions - but also to positively impact the government officials who will ultimately produce the vital regulations they desire.
Images credits: Freedomz/Shutterstock.com, Inspiring/Shutterstock.com, PhuShutter/Shutterstock.com