Privacy Concerns in the Enterprise: How Can CIOs Ensure Employee Trust?

Bob Egan

With the rise of BYOD and other mobile advances in the enterprise, employee trust in their companies to guard their personal information has dropped significantly in recent years. What key steps can CIOs take to regain this trust?

The gap between employee and employer trust is widening, which is driven by the uncertainty about privacy. CIOs have a mandate to remove this uncertainty and regain the trust of their employees.

According to a recent study by MobileIron, employees who said they "completely trust" their companies to guard their personal privacy dropped to 21 per cent in 2015, down from 30 per cent just two years prior. The participants who said they "trust" their companies to guard their personal privacy dropped from 66 per cent in 2013 to 61 per cent in 2015.

There was also a substantial drop in the personal discomfort levels indicated by participants in the survey across all the different personal content categories – personal email, contacts, texts, etc. – between 2013 and 2015.

So employee discomfort has gone down and their trust has gone down, which seems counterintuitive until you consider two items.

The first is that employees are becoming more uncertain and less informed about privacy-related issues when it comes to using their personal phone for work. Even the certainty of those who believed in 2013 that their company had access to no personal information on their personal device has dropped by 7 per cent in 2015.

I spoke with Ojas Rege, VP Strategy at MobileIron, and he said: "Consumers are becoming more aware of privacy issues in general (data breaches, etc.), so their trust in institutions (including their employers) has dropped.

"But consumers also deal with a lot of uncertainties – their perception of what can be seen (in the work context at least) is not that correct. In the work context, employers have still not done a good job of addressing that uncertainty and communicating privacy policies and actions clearly.

"So employees are learning to live with uncertainty and their discomfort with that uncertainty has decreased even though their trust has not increased."

Lessons for Enterprise Leaders

I think there are some lessons to be learned and some actions to be taken by enterprise leaders. They include:

1. BYOD and the Consumerisation of IT are more about people, processes and user experience than it is about tech. This is important for IT, HR and business leaders to digest.

2. People have to trust tech. IT organisations that want to survive and thrive will strike a balance between deployments of tech and deployments of business value. Remember that people drive business; technologies are tools that enable people.

3. Treat the trust gap very seriously. 40 to 50 per cent of your employees are still not comfortable with employers seeing personal content and they trust you less than they did two years ago.

As business leaders, we must be mindful that transparency drives trust while uncertainty enables mistrust. We must never take employee trust for granted.

I am the first to acknowledge that this should be obvious, but all too often I run into exceptions. For example, the Consumerisation of IT (CoIT) should be a watershed moment for enterprise leaders. Sadly, many organisations equate CoIT specifically to mobile or some misplaced consumer euphoria.

The companies who I see that demonstrate leadership, understand that CoIT is more about people, processes and experiences than it is about tech. Think Uber. Think Apple. Uber is about the experience and owns no tech. Apple hides tech and promotes a great experience. What they have in common is that success and failure of both Uber and Apple centres on trust. Likewise, as enterprise leaders, trust needs to be a cornerstone of your mobile initiatives.

The real value of employing mobile, irrespective of the device ownership model (BYOD, COPE, etc.), is employee satisfaction and productivity. As many companies have discovered that means providing employees with useful apps and services on the devices they choose beyond just email and calendaring. But we have to be mindful that adoption limits occur by trust and user experience.

Trust and great user experience are the cornerstones of how we increase business velocity and business impact through innovation.

Rege added: "A culture of trust between employer and employee is driven by transparency, communication, and education. Business leaders need to get on the ball, establish and communicate policies clearly, and reinforce them often. If you don’t have the foundation of trust, you will always struggle with adoption."


Many companies have asked employees to agree (usually electronically) to long and short form legal BYOD agreements when they enrol their personal phone. Just like when we as consumers download mobile applications from commercial application stores we don’t read these agreements.

One message here is that we need to think about more innovative ways to use graphics and videos to help employees get the picture and remove the uncertainties to close the trust gap.