Never Again

It Comes Down to Faith and Trust

Snooping on your employees' e-mails -- that can't be good for morale.

Right around the time of the dotcom crash, I was working for a company as their systems/mail administrator, carrying out those responsibilities in what I believed to be a pretty dedicated and conscientious way.

The company CEO had just retired and a new management team was put in place. My boss also left around that time and was replaced by a non-IT person. My old boss was someone who would routinely question what he believed to be bad IT decisions, but this new manager clearly demonstrated himself to be a yes man.

A Perplexing Situation
Compounding the problem, the company was struggling during this period and had a series of layoffs where plenty of good people lost their jobs. Raises and bonuses were nonexistent and morale was lower than I'd ever seen it. After a couple of years of this -- and as general market conditions improved -- people started leaving to work for competitors and were getting raises by as much as 25 percent.

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What perplexed me about this situation was management's cluelessness: They actually could not understand why people were leaving. What was even more perplexing was management's response to this: to start monitoring employees' e-mail.

Well, did my new non-technical boss come to me, the e-mail administrator, to ask how we should proceed with this new directive? No. He took it upon himself to find the software that could do the trick.

Once he made his choice, he loaded the software onto the mail server without telling me and set up rules to forward any message sent to or from our competitors to a mailbox where he and the COO could review them. When I found out about this I was outraged.

Sluggish Performance
There was little I could do, but what I did do was very casually let people whom I trusted know that they should watch what they said in their e-mails, because I felt management was doing something totally unethical.

Never AgainThe side effect of my boss's actions was that performance on the mail server was adversely affected. I started suggesting the reason for this was the new tool he'd added to the server. After a few months my boss and the COO were not uncovering what they thought they would and asked me to remove the program. Once I did all performance issues evaporated.

Loss of Faith
The ugly bottom line to all of this was the new management team showed no trust or loyalty to its employees, which caused the employees to lose trust and faith in them. Employees were constantly looking over their shoulders, focusing more on what management might be up to instead of focusing on doing the best job they could.

Not long after this, management thought it would be a good idea to have Q&A sessions with each of the different departments. During our session with the same COO present, very few questions were asked. But the one answer I'll never forget was the COO's response to my question having to do with employee fear. His cold response: "Fear is good!"

No Fond Farewell
Well, I was terminated about a year after this incident, but I was happy that I was no longer working under those conditions.

The COO's response to my question wasn't due to anything they found in my e-mail because I made sure I kept my personal mail off the company mail server.

About the Author

The submitter of this "Never Again" story wishes to remain anonymous.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Apr 30, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

Welcome to American Management - Do as I say, not as I do. The execs make the big bucks and get all the perks, the rest of us get beat up if we use the photocopier for personal use every now and then.

Mon, Apr 30, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

I had written a lenghty comment, I think I'll just sumerize it: This is a good example of why you need to create a written Policy document, that should be signed off on by all employee's and placed into the employee handbook. Every employee needs to agree to a "rules sheet" for use of company equipment and Technology staffer's and Mgmt need to work together to create it. It should outline what the proper use of the equipment will be (example: 8-5 only work, after 5 you can play games. example2: Company equipment only used for business purposes). It should also outline any disciplinary actions that could or will be taken if the employee is found to be in violation of the written Policy.

There still seem to be some legal issues regarding most of this (example, I've been told that in the UK, companies cannot just start reading emails without permission). So check with your legal department, draft a Policy document and get legal and Mgmt's approval on it.

Mon, Apr 30, 2007 Doug Chicago

Faith and trust has to occur between management and system administrators as they have the highest levels of access. No where in any administrators job description does it state that a trust must exist between admins and the end user. If management is doing something illegal, you still have no right to tell end users. You do have an obligation to report it to the proper authorities. If it is a matter of your personal ethics, be honest and just quit! It's just like the political sleaze who report suspected illegal activities to the press rather than the proper authorities.

Wed, Apr 11, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

quote: All hardware, software and data is the sole property of the company------
True, and so are their phones and rest rooms? what about indistinctively spying on them?

Thu, Apr 5, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

I have to agree. All hardware, software, and data is the sole property of the company and may be accessed to protect the company's interests. If you have the gall to send your resume out on company time, you should get disciplined.

Mon, Apr 2, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

Why would you be outraged if management monitored emails sent to or from competitors? How is that unethical? Rather idealistic of the author, in the extreme. I think telling the employees about the decision was sleazier.

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