For many office workers, there seems to be some confusion concerning the privacy of employee-to-employee communications made over a company network. It is okay for an employer to go through an employee’s email or instant messaging history? Many workers may be surprised to learn that an employer is in their legal right to do so.

For employers, what’s the best way to approach monitoring?

There Should Be an Understanding of Company Policy
As the business owner, you have complete legal authority to go through your employees’ internal emails and instant messages. After all, you own the network. While acting on this right opens up a ton of insight into who might be wasting away their workday, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should read every message that’s been written. If you do, you might find a couple of messages that will get you hot and bothered.

Furthermore, if your employees are unaware that you’re reading their every message, they may find it unfair when you judge them based on opinions which they thought were expressed in private. If you foresee a future where you’ll need to dig through company messages, then it’s your responsibility to communicate to your employees that their messages are being monitored. This is best for everybody and will help keep the peace in the workplace.

Objectivity is a Necessity
For example, one issue that you, as an employer, might encounter when investigating employee messages is the office trash-talker. For the purpose of ascertaining the extent of the damage done to the company culture, you may decide to go through their messages. In the worst case scenario, this rogue employee might have messaged everyone in the office (even your most loyal workers), spreading their negativity.

When you review internal messages like this, it’s important to remember that there are two sides to every conversation. In the aforementioned scenario, a loyal worker might find themselves hesitant to respond to their fellow employee’s trash talking messages; yet, they might feel it rude to not respond at all. From your perspective, it’s important to identify when an employee is participating in an attack, versus when they’re responding with neutral language for the sake of being polite. Take for example this hypothetical IM conversation between two employees; a loyal employee (LE), and a disgruntled employee (DE).

DE: I’m so sick of this policy, it’s unfair and the boss is a tyrant with a bad hairpiece!
LE: There are some policies here that can be improved upon.
DE: This isn’t the first time the boss has messed with me like this, he’s a jerk and I’m sick of everything.
LE: The boss can be strict.

After reading this exchange, the employer (who may be offended and biased prior to the investigation) is now in a difficult position. Without a proper understanding of context, it would be easy to come down on both employees for this conversation. However, a more careful and objective reading of this hypothetical conversation shows that LE didn’t say anything wrong; rather, LE responded to DE in a way which appeased his/her feelings while preventing the problem from spreading. This subtle peacekeeping strategy might be overlooked by an employer who’s on a witch hunt.

Everyone Needs an Outlet
Everyone needs a monitor-free place where they can vent about their day-to-day frustrations. Venting can be therapeutic, and it’s important that workers dealing with stress have a way to express their thoughts and opinions without worrying about losing their jobs for being too vocal. Sound familiar? This used to be the role of the office water cooler; but now, since today’s society is comfortable expressing itself through digital mediums, people have no problem venting through IMs or other digital platforms, like social media.

The problem with employees digitally venting to each other at work is they might wrongly assume that, since they use the same communication tools to vent in their personal lives which aren’t monitored, then their communications at work aren’t being monitored. This goes back to the importance of communicating to your staff that messages relayed over a company network aren’t private, and that they will be held responsible for what they say through company email, IMs, and other intranet solutions.

All Business Technologies excels in providing quality communication solutions for businesses just like yours, including VoIP phone systems, secure instant messaging, and email archiving solutions. These come equipped with permission systems that allow only the network administrator and other qualified personnel to view archived messages. Give us a call at 508-586-1000 to learn more.

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