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How To Handle E-mail Abuse

July 1, 1996
The Dilemma:
Vivian, a manager at your company, was reviewing random e-mails sent by one of her employees, John. She suspected that even though he had been warned to stop, he was still sending an excessive number of personal messages through the company-provided online service during company time. In checking the messages, she learned that another co-worker, Jennifer, was extremely unhappy about being passed over for a promotion and was considering quitting—and encouraging John and other friends to do the same. Vivian has come to you for input on how to handle the situation. What do you advise her to do?

Readers Respond:
Does John get his work done correctly and on time? Is he available to Vivian when she needs him? If the answer is "yes" then I’d ignore his e-mail activity and be grateful that I have the time to monitor anyone’s e-mail—randomly or not! I might wonder, however, if he has enough work to do.

However, if his work isn’t done, or if the e-mail costs the company money in another way, I’d go to the bottom line: "John, you’re not meeting reasonable production/quality standards. Do you understand that this could cost you your job?"

And, unless Jennifer is irreplaceable, I’d ignore that problem as well. It’s probably just a face-saving device. I believe American workers have an inalienable right to complain and a right (by law) to encourage their co-workers to join them. Let’s encourage our managers to concentrate on more important issues!
Sally McKinney, Director of HR Services,
American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers,
New York, New York

First, if Vivian’s first indication of employee dissatisfaction comes from reviewing e-mail, there could be a management problem. Perhaps Vivian is spending too much time sorting through e-mail and not enough time interacting directly with her employees.

Second, I would want to know if the company has a written policy on the use and ownership of e-mail and the disciplinary action that’ll be taken for violations. If the company doesn’t have an e-mail policy, then one should be written, placed in the company handbook and covered with and signed by all employees. If the company already has an established e-mail policy, then it would be appropriate for Vivian to follow the outlined actions.
Gaylynn Lankford,
President,
The HR Connection,
Jacksonville, Florida

Personnel Journal, July 1996, Vol. 75, No. 7, p. 88.