This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

With a major recession in full-swing, someone had to come up with a survey covering the ethics of office workers in three countries. The punch line: a large percentage of folks surveyed would steal confidential company data in the event of layoff rumors. The results are fairly ugly, painting a negative picture of ethics in the workplace.

Security firm, Cyber-Ark, conducted the survey, called The Global Recession and its Effect on Work Ethics. The company interviewed 600 workers in the US, UK, and the Netherlands.

When asked how far respondents would go to keep their job, 15 percent of Americans said they would consider blackmailing their boss! At first, I thought this was a joke, but it appears to be serious after all.

Unfortunately, the answers are not a positive reflection upon my fellow citizens:

Gaining advance access to a termination list seems to be an almost-universal desire:

Although customer and contact lists are also popular targets:

And the most popular way to steal employer information? The ubiquitous memory stick. Since email comes in second, it appears these data thieves are relatively unconcerned about leaving tracks behind them:

Key takeaways for me:

  • Employers should not underestimate the level of stress the recession causes workers. Treat your folks with respect and dignity and they’re more likely to behave decently back toward you.
  • Once workers learn they may be targeted for downsizing, their ethics may erode. Employers should be aware of this and enhance security accordingly.
  • A small number of workers are just plain dumb. Threats of blackmail? You’ve gotta be kidding.

What do you think the results say about workers in the three different countries studied? Share your thoughts in the discussion.