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Use Work Email Very Carefully

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Back at my former employer, I had the great fortune of making a lot of friends my age (they hire a hundred plus each year out of school) and so we did (and still do) quite a bit of emailing back and forth every single day, sometimes up to 300 emails a day. What’s funny is that my group of friends were always wary of using foul language, using punctuation to replace letters in an attempt to confuse any automated detection methods (as if putting an @ instead of an ‘a’ would actually trip it up), but few censored the content of the message itself. Think of any hot button topic and we’ve discussed it – immigration, welfare, finance, weapons control, etc; and we’ve had the entire spectrum of opinion represented from the apologists all the way to the fervent activists on either side of any issue. But ,if you think about it, most business probably don’t care if you swear… they’re more likely to be interested in the other things we didn’t censor and whether you’re revealing company secrets in the process.

Now, let’s tackle the two issues separately. The first is whether you hold an opinion that is contrary to either the company’s position, if it has one, or is too extreme in either direction. Take illegal immigration for example, what if you said you hated all illegal immigrants and wanted them all to die? Is that worse, from a company’s perspective, than saying a swear word? I would hardly think so. Now let’s play a little Minority Report, what if some filter saw that and flagged the email, would the employer be compelled to act?

Now, let’s say you’re selling company secrets and being all super covert about it, well according to an article in Fortune, email analysis software is much smarter than you because it looks for intentionally vague language, uncharacteristic behavior, etc. If you never come into work earlier than 11 AM and you suddenly start sending emails to an outside source about “meetups” at 6AM, well… zap, they might have gotten you.

Either way, I think that one should always be careful in any sort of communication, whether its stored forever or not, because you never know.

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “Use Work Email Very Carefully”

  1. Art Dinkin says:

    About 4 years ago I was working with a large company who made it abundantly clear that there was no expectation of privacy with company email. One day I received a phone call from our compliance department. The voice on the phone told me they were auditing my securities registration and noticed I failed to disclose my involvement as Secretary of our local Rotary Club. She also told me what I needed to do to fix my registration.

    I did what she asked me to do but then I asked “How did you know I was the Rotary Club secretary?” Her response… “I am the person assigned to read your email”!!!

    That single experience made me look at email in a completely different light.

    Art Dinkin

  2. cami says:

    I went to a diversity and harassment training workshop earlier this week. They told us that if we sent an email, and it was forwarded to someone who found it offensive we could be investigated for harassment. If the incident was found to be harassment against a protected class, we could be kicked out of grad school. This went for jokes, cartoons, etc. Even if you didn’t send it originally to the person who was offended you are still responsible. This has made me put school/work email in a whole new light. Then again, they also apply this policy to public email accounts so it’s made me think twice about sending emails to anyone affiliated with my university. That might be something you want to check on as well, because computer policies are often applied to more than just your email.

  3. Steve says:

    This is the difference between American and Australian cultures, compared to the Japanese.

    In Japan, they are silent the entire day. Forget about friendly chats. The work hardfor their employer as they are grateful for their job.

    In our cultures, it is very different. This would not even be in issue in Japan.

  4. SP says:

    I worked for a large securities firm in a small office where the emails were read by a very nosey person. Instead of looking for compliance related issues and policy situations, that person would comment on the new car you were purchasing, the pending elopement, or your relative’s psychosis, to whomever was within earshot. Personal, private emails such as yahoo were blocked, so this was it. There is no privacy at work, but this is an abuse of the system on the other end.

  5. Tim says:

    bottom line, don’t do anything on work computers if you do not want to face ramifications for doing them. there is no expectation of privacy, and i cannot believe how many people still go on about as if it were.

  6. Tim says:

    oh, and putting @ and other symbols in lieu of letters shows two things: first, you are aware of the policies; second, that you purposely are doing things to evade those policies. Pretty strong case for the employer and against the employee.

  7. John says:

    So what are you saying Jim? You want a forum where you can express your hate for illegal immigrants; one, which your employer won’t read?

  8. Beth says:

    Is’t also something of an issue that you all were spending your company’s time (i.e., money) sending hundreds of non-work-related emails a day?

  9. thc says:

    At 300 emails a day, it’s clear you weren’t very serious about your work.

    • jim says:

      Nice generalization, 300 would be a lot for 5 people, but it’s not that many when you factor in the 20 people on the list.

  10. Foobarista says:

    In order to do Sarbanes Oxley compliance, all company emails, IMs, etc have to be archived and easily searchable.

  11. thc says:

    Jim: Regardless of how many people were on the distribution list, you were reading 300 personal emails/day. Don’t you feel guilty about cashing your paycheck when you’re spending that kind of time on BS? You’d never work for me.


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