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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