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I'm a "database reporting analyst" and what I mostly do is build pre-made reports (specified by key people in the business such as Directors) and create "one off" reports when they are needed for a specific purpose, like when someone is going into a meeting and needs some particular figures to help make a business decision. These reports and other figures are created using a data warehouse which gets fed from our operational business systems (production, sales ledger, forecast, quarterly target etc).

The company manufactures "widgets" and also sells services associated with the "widgets" (e.g. technical specialists go out to customer sites and help them get the best out of the 'widget' they've bought by giving consultancy services).

Through my job I have access to what you could call "privileged" information. I report on numbers about sales / profitability / projected headcount needed in order to manufacture the number of 'widgets' we expect to sell next quarter, etc.

As it happens, the company isn't doing very well. (I've got a good idea of some of the reasons but I don't think they matter to the question so I'll leave them out here). There is a vague sense among people that we don't seem to be carrying out as many large client engagements as we were last year (for example) and a few articles in the trade press about a decline in the 'widget' industry - but most of these people don't have access to any concrete numbers to back that up.

I do have access to the numbers and I'm considering my future with this company and whether it would be better to start looking for a job in a more stable company. (That's a matter of opinion of course so I'm not asking what I should do about that.)

(Edited to add: it isn't just a case of "technical reasons" that they don't have access -- no computer needed for their job so they don't have access to our system, or whatever. If asked for those reports/numbers by someone non-authorised I wouldn't be able to share them.)

Also some of the information I'm asked for could be general clues e.g. I've been asked for profitability figures for several 'variants' of a particular widget and inferred from the context that the company may be considering "killing off" a couple of the unprofitable products.

Question: is it ethical to use the information that I have access to as part of my role, to think about whether I should be looking for another job? How can I avoid the appearance of doing something 'improper' if I do decide to move on?

Notes: It's a privately owned company, so there is no concept of insider trading, leaking information before it becomes public, etc. It should go without saying but I have no intention of "blabbing" confidential info to others - but also I can't "unsee" numbers I have actually seen.

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  • 9
    Just as knowing your manager is a jerk or your department’s coding practices are suspect would rightly impact your view of your current job, it’s just another piece of information you rightfully know in conjunction with your job function. We all know something that not everyone else does. So long as you don’t share privileged information with those you shouldn’t or something to that effect, I see no issue.
    – SemiGeek
    Sep 26 '19 at 19:41
  • You say it is a private company, so that means no stocks, but do you have anything else where if you bail out now you get the highest monetary value now before the company goes under?
    – Dan
    Sep 27 '19 at 18:30
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It is never improper to leave a company if you feel ( whether it is by facts or just a gut feeling ) that they are not doing well and that their future ( and in turn yours ) does not look good.

The way to avoid the appearance of doing something improper is to not do anything that is improper. There is nothing wrong with using information that you work with on a day to day basis to make a decision about whether you want to continue working at that company. There are always clues indicating instability in a company and they are not limited to "privileged information".

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  • I like this answer. The "improper" part comes with making money or swaying markets based on that. Leave, say it's best for your chosen career path, but don't go to the press and tell them my company I'm leaving is in trouble, might make a good story...
    – mutt
    Sep 27 '19 at 19:47
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Using what you know or feel about your company to stay or go is not unethical.

What would be unethical is sharing this privileged information with other companies you interview with. When asked (and you will be) you can talk about other reasons you're looking for a new opportunity without bad mouthing your current employer.

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You aren’t bound by either law or ethics in this case from pursuing your own best interest.

Depending upon your exact situation you may be barred by both from discussing your exact reasoning with others, but fortunately the interviewer isn’t really looking for your reasoning on leaving. What the interviewer wants is to understand how long you will be with them if you get hired.

What you should do is develop prepared answers to the question’s why are you leaving and why do you want to join our company. Answers that don’t say “I think you’ll still be in business in six months”. While that may be true, it’s only going to be acceptable when your previous employer is no longer in business or isn’t making payroll.

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Many employees get some hints that their company isn't doing well. And many will then start looking for a new job. Some are better at spotting these signs than others. You are basically in the same position as someone who is very, very good at spotting warning signs.

What is ethical is looking for another job. If others know that you have insider knowledge and you allow them to draw conclusions from you looking for another job, that's also ethical.

What's unethical and possibly illegal or breach of contract is telling someone about your insider knowledge, including a new company during an interview, and what's definitely illegal is selling shares or shorting the stock if it wasn't a privately held company. And if you have signed an NDA, then you should read it very carefully to see if it says anything about the situation. I have been in one place at some point in a very different context where I could hear private communications, and the rule was that I was not allowed to act on these private communications.

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As long as you keep privileged information and your actual reason for leaving to yourself it s not improper. '

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