The technology that we have access to today is mind boggling in its ability to connect people in a practically unlimited number of ways. Despite the arguments against technology as hampering our young folks’ social development, I am a huge fan of responsibly embracing technological advancements. What do I mean by “responsibly embracing?”
Responsibly embracing our ability to communicate with one another electronically means clearly understanding that cyberspace is not a confidential communications highway through which we can travel without the potential of repercussions. As an HR professional, I work with many of our clients to create employee handbooks which include policies on computer usage and electronic communications in the workplace. As an employee, you have very likely signed an acknowledgement form indicating that you have received your employer’s employee handbook, are familiar with its contents and agree to abide by the policies in the handbook. While employees in almost any organization are told that their communications using company equipment are not private, I don’t believe that the majority of employees truly understand what this means.
In the past year, I have been approached by CEOs from two different organizations who discovered Google Chat conversations that their employees were having that were disparaging both to the executives and to their organizations. The executives were not snooping into their employees’ computer habits, rather these electronic conversations were discovered in the process of recovering pertinent company related work product from departing employees’ computers. Not only were these messages extremely embarrassing to both the employees and the employees’ bosses, they are potentially damaging to these employees’ future careers. Do you think these bosses are inclined to give these employees a good reference?
When email was first introduced to us at large as a society, the rule of thumb was “don’t put anything in writing via email that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of The Washington Post.” While many employees have learned the hard way that it is all too easy to send an email to unintended recipients, I don’t believe that employees have the same sensitivity to how wayward communications can go with electronic communications vehicles such as Google Chat. For some reason, people communicate using these methods as if the person they are sending the message to is the only person who would ever be in a position to read the message.
Employees everywhere: please understand that your Google Chat communications are not private when using your employers’ resources!!!
And, using Google Chat or other similar electronic communications for personal reasons can negatively impact your career. You may be thinking, “I would never be so irresponsible as to disparage my boss or company via Google Chat!” That’s great…but also keep in mind that your intimate conversations with your significant other via Google Chat can be equally as embarrassing and possibly damaging to your career.
So my advice to employees everywhere – do NOT use Google Chat (or similar electronic methods of communication) on company equipment unless it is sanctioned by your company as an acceptable method of communicating with your colleagues for work related purposes, keep your Google Chat conversations professional at all times and remember that your electronic conversations in the workplace are not private!
For more information regarding this post or how Raffa, P.C. can help your organization, please contact the author, Simone Putnam, Partner of our Human Resources Practice, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-955-6770.