Fooling Around Online Can Savage Careers and Sink Companies, Experts Warn
February 2004 (Newstream) -- Think e-mail and instant messaging are safe and speedy ways to send Valentine's Day greetings? Think again. Employees who send e-love notes on company time may find themselves embarrassed or unemployed. Employers who permit workers to send romantic e-mails could land in court. One in 20 organizations has battled a workplace lawsuit triggered by inappropriate employee e-mail, according to the 2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey from American Management Association (AMA), The ePolicy Institute, and Clearswift. With 90% of employees using the company e-mail system for personal correspondence, the likelihood of love-sick staffers sending racy, romantic, and risky e-mail Valentines is huge.
"In the age of e-mail and instant messaging, 'kiss and tell' has taken on new meaning," said Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute, and author of E-Mail Rules (AMACOM 2003) and Instant Messaging Rules (AMACOM 2004). "Hit the wrong key, and your hot message could land on the cold screens of your supervisors, colleagues, or customers. Send a romantic e-mail to an indiscreet lover, and your private message could become the subject of public ridicule," said Flynn.
Fortunately, employers can take steps to prevent e-disaster this Valentine's Day. The ePolicy Institute and Clearswift recommend joining the 75% of organizations that have established written e-mail policies prohibiting the sending and receiving of romantic or racy messages on Valentine's Day-or any other day. "For responsible organizations operating in the age of electronic communication, an e-mail policy is an indispensable business tool," said Greg Hampton, Clearswift Marketing Vice President. "For added protection, be sure to back up your policy with employee education, discipline, and software that monitors and filters messages."
A word of advice for love-sick employees who may be tempted to send electronic Valentines in spite of employer prohibitions: Don't. Increasingly, savvy employers are monitoring employees' e-mail communications. According to the 2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey, 51% of employers monitor incoming e-mail; 39% keep an eye on outgoing e-mail; and 19% monitor internal employee e-mail. Write an e-love note on company time, and you may wind up unemployed, as 22% of e-mail policy violators have learned the hard way. (Download the 2003 E-Mail Survey)
Need convincing of the dangers inherent in e-love notes? Consider Matthew Kammersell, the smitten young man who sent a combination e-love note/bomb threat to his beloved's office computer, and ended up spending 4 months in jail.
Take the case of Claire Swire, a British woman who suffered international embarrassment when boyfriend Bradley Chait forwarded her explicit e-mail about oral sex to 10 million readers in England, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia, and the US.
Consider the pain Enron employees endured when the federal government posted online 1.6 million personal e-mails that discussed romances, affairs, divorces, and marriages-with senders' and receivers' names attached.
Who can forget the embarrassing--and very public-e-mail messages Monica Lewinsky intended for Linda Tripp's eyes only.
The best advice, according to The ePolicy Institute: Don't leave e-risk management to chance. Keep online employees in-line by: (1) Establishing written e-mail rules and policies; (2) Educating all employees, from entry-level staff to the CEO, about e-mail risks and the importance of policy compliance; and (3) Installing policy-based content filtering software such as Clearswift's MIMEsweeper and ENTERPRISEsuite, designed to work in conjunction with the organization's written e-mail policies.
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