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The Truth about E-Mails and Privacy: Big Brother Really is Watching

Tags:  Management, e-mail, Employee privacy

One of the biggest workplace issues facing employers and employees today has to do with workplace privacy issues and who has what rights.


Let's just start right off with a basic fact: e-mails at work are anything but private. Truth of the matter is that even though what an employee writes may be personal, they are writing it, sending it and storing it on equipment that belongs to the company. The idea that there is any sense of workplace privacy, therefore, is highly suspect.


Now while this may be appalling to some and cause others to scorn, employees need to realize that the organization is not there for their personal pleasure or to provide them with the technology to surf and send information.


In fact, most corporate IT departments typically utilize network tracking and auditing programs which record Internet usage and PC activity including monitoring, filtering and scanning e-mails for certain keywords. This is to protect the company and the very expensive equipment they have invested in from any unwanted activity that might otherwise impugn the company's reputation, enable an employee to leak trade secret, or allow the sharing of confidential information  – just to name a few.

However, it is also to protect the employees.

By monitoring computer usage an organization can ensure that e-mails that might offend employees are not being shared while also checking to make sure employees are not writing inappropriate e-mails that will later come back to haunt them. Nothing can stop career advancement faster than being caught sending inappropriate e-mails or using company technology for personal purposes.


See, the difference between standing around the water cooler having a chat is that once an employee clicks the ""send"" button anything they have written is firmly committed to a permanent record. Therefore, the fact is that if it is written and sent on company time or using company technology, the company will know about it and be responsible for it.


Of course none of this should be news to employees these days as most organizations have a formal written policy warning employees about things like:

  • computers (as well as other equipment) are meant for business purposes;
  • computers are the property of the employer;
  • messages sent on company computer systems are not private;
  • e-mail may be monitored;
  • employees should have no reasonable expectation of privacy when using e-mail.

And yet many employees continue to write and send e-mails that could ultimately put an end to any plan for career advancement.

So what should employees do to protect themselves?

It's as simple as don't use company e-mail for sending personal messages. Applying for a new job? Don't send a resume from work as it is easily traceable. Upset with a co-worker? It's better to tell them face to face. Want to share grandma's recipe for the best bunt bake ever? Tell them during the break period.


Fact of the matter is, the workplace is for working and e-mail is meant for communicating work information. To use it for anything else would send the wrong message.

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