Inappropriate Email… Huh?

I wrote a memo to our staff last week, and I am wondering if it was too abrupt. It concerned emails. One of the department managers contacted me: Her staff needed reminding about appropriate use of company email, and I knew of another inappropriate email that had come through from another employee, so I jumped right on it.

I usually write a short memo, and this was no exception. I did, however, add another section of explanation for those who like their memos longer and more detailed. But I thought the message was clear cut, and sometimes when you try to explain something simple you just end up making it more complicated.

Here it is: Do not use company email for anything that is not the business of the company. Period. And word every email with respect. No name-calling. Ever. Or company secrets.

What do you think? Too black & white? That's what I'm afraid of. I send emails all day long that only tangentially concern United Staffing: to the Chamber, to HRACC or Rotary members, turning in my Tolosa columns. So did I just write myself a memo telling me I can't do that anymore?

Why did I go so inflexible when I know better? I know that employee handbook policies should be written as guidelines to follow, but never so detailed as to leave no room for on-the-spot management decision making. Even a "zero tolerance" policy against harassment shouldn't mean that every offense will be met with immediate termination, only that every offense will be met with appropriate discipline that may include termination. The point in zero tolerance is that nobody gets a mulligan when it comes to harassment. HR has never been a rigid arena, so what was I thinking?

By the way, I have had no second thoughts about the second part of my memo; that dealt with respectful language. Email is forever and can come back to punish you for thoughtless (or worse) language. I have been told by more than one attorney that the delete button is a ruse, designed to provide a false sense of security in the user. Besides, if you are enforcing respectful language and treatment in the workplace, it should include emails, too.

Our company policies are clear on the subject of emails and doing personal business while at work, so my memo was meant as a reminder, and I attached a copy of both policies (again, for those who like to see the source and read the fine print.) Is it a zero tolerance policy about personal use of email, though? Or is a "reasonable" amount OK? Courts, you know, have the reasonable person criteria for evaluating an issue: What would a reasonable person feel about it? Know any who sit on juries? But I digress.

In my attempt to be clear I feel I have been unreasonable. Certainly unrealistic. And an unrealistic policy is usually not enforceable. Great. I have accomplished the exact opposite of my intention and have to write another memo explaining what I meant in the first place. But maybe I'll have someone else draft it.


Betsey has over 18 yrs exp. as a Human Resources generalist & over 20 yrs exp. in management. Prior to merging her successful consulting firm, NASH HR SERVICES with UNITED STAFFING ASSOCIATES, her experience included 10 yrs in HR with The Home Depot before being recruited by Bed, Bath & Beyond to be District HR manager for the busy San Fernando Valley. Since 1983, Betsey continues to be a popular teacher of classes in management, human resources & communication for professionals in b...

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