What is the importance of confidentiality? (With examples)
Updated 25 May 2023
Confidentiality is a crucial factor in many work environments. As a tool used to protect people, ensure a high standard of business security and to keep private data secure, the way confidentiality is handled is an increasingly valuable soft skill across various industries and fields. This protection can help meet legal compliance requirements and assist businesses to build trust and credibility with their customers and the people they work with. In this article, we look at the importance of confidentiality in the workplace, with examples and the vital skills required for effective confidentiality.
What is the importance of confidentiality?
The importance of confidentiality is extremely high in most businesses, workplaces and careers. Being able to handle personal details, data and other private information ethically is vital for companies to operate, retain the public's trust and meet specific compliance laws and regulations. While the exact nature of confidentiality may change, its fundamentals remain the same. For example, confidentiality for a doctor may involve keeping medical information safe and secure. In contrast, confidentiality for a marketing company may include the safe storage of personal data for marketing lists and databases.
What is confidentiality of information?
Confidentiality of information is the process of keeping information provided by an individual secure and private, with no opportunity for anyone to access it without permission. An example of confidentiality of information would be the trade secrets of a business, where information keeping a business competitive requires adequate protection. Confidentiality of information covers the full spectrum of data that a business or practice could receive from an internal or external source.
Keeping information confidential could benefit the client, such as in a lawyer-client relationship, or it could be to meet workplace guidelines and legal responsibilities defined by the DBS or GDPR (see below). The methods for keeping information confidential may also vary, from the software used to data storage on or off-site.
What does confidentiality mean to you?
For employees, confidentiality means following pre-set guidelines and plans to keep data security controlled within a business. Business owners, IT specialists and HR departments may all have input into confidentiality rules and regulations within a specific workplace. These rules are usually part of specialised training or the onboarding process to ensure employees thoroughly understand confidentiality requirements.
How do you handle confidentiality in your work?
The way to handle confidentiality in your work may vary depending on the kind of job you do and the restrictions and regulations in your specific industry. For example, addressing confidentiality in a medical clinic may require specific systems and strict discretion with private patient information and medical records. For someone that works in an office, handling confidentiality may be more practical, such as not leaving sensitive documents in public spaces like printers and having password access to certain documents and files.
What kinds of confidentiality are there?
One of the questions you might face in an interview is 'what is your understanding of confidentiality?'. A good place to start is learning the different compliance options in specific circumstances and environments. Some of the key types of confidentiality include:
The General Data Protection Act, or GDPR, is the set of data protection rules that the UK and the EU use to handle private data held by businesses. The goal of GDPR is to give individuals greater control over the use of their private information. This includes the right to ask for the deletion of data, the right to get copies of data and the right to prevent your information from being used in specific ways. GDPR requires businesses to meet high confidentiality standards and use the information they have lawfully and ethically.
For example, if a company wants to use customer data to send a personalised newsletter, they're required to ask for permission first. The person purchasing something from their store by providing personal information does not permit them to use their data in other ways.
DBS code of practice
The Disclosure and Barring Service, known as DBS, is an organisation that actions specific DBS checks for businesses requiring screening before hiring employees. Examples of companies that fall under the DBS requirement include care homes, schools and similar roles related to the care of young or vulnerable people. Every company registered with the DBS has to have a policy concerning confidentiality and privacy of information.
The DBS code of practice has specific rules and regulations relating to receiving information about applicants from DBS checks. If a DBS check reveals a criminal record history or other private information, this data is securely and accurately stored and processed safely with access only available to authorised individuals. The DBS code of practice also states that all relevant information is only kept as long as necessary.
Workplace confidentiality requirements
Individual workplaces may have their own policies and requirements for confidentiality of information, data and other valuable resources. These policies meet GDPR and DBS standards as required and may include additional measures and steps to protect trade secrets, customer data, or financial information. For example, the finance department in a business may use specific, high-security software for business forecasting to keep their data confidential.
What are examples of confidentiality?
Confidentiality is important in all workplaces, but there are specific roles and jobs where having strong skills in confidentiality is extremely important. For example, a role that handles private information about clients, such as a lawyer, would have a greater commitment to confidentiality. Here are some examples of confidentiality in specific careers:
HR consultants and professionals have significant responsibilities relating to confidentiality in the workplace. As an individual that handles sensitive data for employees, including their medical history, payroll and personal address, it's crucial for HR professionals to maintain a high standard of confidentiality with others in the workplace. For example, HR professionals are responsible for managing and updating employee information and storing it securely and safely in a way that maintains confidentiality.
Accountants handle sensitive financial information as a part of their daily tasks. Part of accountants' responsibility is complying with codes of practice to act in the best interests of their clients. For example, clients may provide sensitive information about their financial details and plans. The accountant then stores this information safely and confidentially to ensure their clients' private details aren't passed on to anyone else.
Related: How to become a chartered accountant
Therapists and other mental health professionals work directly with individuals to provide private, professional services, maintaining confidentiality and putting appropriate boundaries in place as required to build trust and help clients feel safe. For example, a therapist may have details about a specific incident or event in an individual's life. Ethically, it's their responsibility to keep these details safe, secure and not to share them with anyone else without explicit permission to do so.
Confidentiality skills examples
Confidentiality skills can be difficult to define, as they mean different things in different environments. Nonetheless, some soft skills can help ensure that you meet the necessary codes and standards of confidentiality in a range of roles. Examples of skills that can support confidentiality include:
Attention to detail
Having strong attention to detail can help to ensure you follow the necessary steps and processes in line with GDPR, DBS and internal codes of practice. Noticing problems as they arise and ensuring follow-through on confidentiality processes as due diligence is vital to maintaining high confidentiality standards. Soft skills in attention to detail can help you focus on the task to keep compliance on point.
Professionalism is a valuable confidentiality skill as it places a specific set of standards and requirements on day-to-day work. Focusing on professionalism in the workplace can help to keep confidentiality concerns at the forefront, ensuring all criteria are met in every part of the role. Acting professionally can also help build trust in clients, partners and employees by demonstrating the high standards you keep.
Discretion is a soft skill that benefits many careers where confidentiality is important. For example, discretion in both HR and medical roles is crucial as you access private, personal data about employees or patients. Being able to show discretion helps build trust and consistently provides a good standard of confidentiality with a person-first approach.
Computer literacy and an understanding of cybersecurity are vital skills for many roles involving confidentiality. With most data and information now included in an online database or dedicated software, it's important to know how to use a computer safely to access confidential information. Understanding how to protect that information and keep data free of breaches is extremely valuable.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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