Study: Workers 50% Less Productive When Privacy Is Risked

An independent study commissioned by 3M, which makes privacy filters for computers and mobile devices, found that lost productivity stemming from employees’ visual privacy concerns could potentially cost a U.S. business with more than 7,500 workers in excess of $1 million annually.

In this age of constantly evolving technology, concerns about data and e-mail privacy are nothing new—but 3M Company recently commissioned a study that shed light on how much those concerns could be costing businesses.
 
The study, conducted by the Traverse City, Michigan-based Ponemon Institute, found that employees are 50 percent less productive when they believe their visual privacy on their computer or mobile device is at risk. Based on that finding, lost productivity due to employees’ visual privacy concerns could potentially cost a U.S. business with more than 7,500 workers in excess of $1 million annually, the study revealed.
 
The Ponemon Institute conducts independent research on privacy, data protection, and information security policy; its research aims to help inform organizations about how to improve their data-protection initiatives.
 
3M had good reason to commission the study, as it makes and sells privacy filters for computers and mobile devices.
 
The study was compiled by examining the behaviors of 274 individuals from five organizations that operate in a variety of business sectors. Each person was invited to participate in a survey that included answering sensitive questions about his or her employer. Prior to administering the survey, participants were given a computer connected to their organization’s network that was in close proximity to a stranger hovering nearby—and they were given the option to either work or not work while they waited for the survey to begin. Forty-four percent of those whose computer had a privacy filter chose to work, while only 22 percent of those whose computer didn’t made the same choice.
 
When survey participants were asked sensitive questions with the stranger sitting nearby, those who indicated that they value privacy passed on nearly twice as many questions when they didn’t have a privacy filter compared to those who did.
 
“While many companies realize that snooping and visual privacy presents a potential data security issue, there has been little research regarding how the lack of visual privacy impacts a business’ bottom line,” Ponemon Institute Chairman and Founder Larry Ponemon said in a prepared statement. “As workers become more mobile and continue to work in settings where there is the potential for visual privacy concerns, companies need to find solutions to address productivity as it relates to computer visual privacy in addition to dealing with the fundamental security issues of mobile devices.”
 
More than half of those surveyed said their visual privacy had been invaded at one point or another—69 percent while in the workplace; 55 percent while traveling by plane, train, or bus; and 51 percent in a public space like a café, airport, or hotel. And almost half (or 47 percent) of those surveyed indicated that they didn’t think their organization placed importance on protecting sensitive information displayed on computer screens and didn’t have adequate policies for employees working in public locations.
 
3M is Minnesota’s fifth-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $29.9 billion for the most recent fiscal year.