If you’re not already using an established email usage policy, now is the time to develop one.
By Bridget McCrea
By their very nature, the best managers tend to be nurturing, communicative, interactive types known for their ability to bring out the best in their teams. To achieve this, managers must know how to communicate well, delegate authority to capable team members, round out their teams with good candidates and manage their own calendars. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law can quickly come into play on any given day when the game of “putting out fires” impacts a manager’s ability to effectively do his or her job.
These days, news headlines are filled with reports of politicians, company leaders, and employees who have improperly used email, social media, and other web communication tools while at work. Look no further than Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account as Secretary of State for an example of this even at the highest levels of government.
Your email usage policies may not make headlines, but having those policies in place – and ensuring that employees understand and adhere to them – is important in today’s technology-centric world. Be it to protect the company from the sharing of trade secrets or proprietary information, safeguard employees or customers from harassment, or to ensure workers aren’t using workplace email accounts for personal/private matters, a good email usage policy is a necessity.
“Ignore this step and you can put your company at risk,” said Anne P. Mitchell, an attorney and CEO/president of ISIPP SuretyMail Email Reputation, Accreditation & Certification in Boulder, Colo. “The good news is that it’s not difficult to do, and the issues that can put your company at risk are fairly easy to address.”
Laying down the law
When Shea Concrete Products of Amesbury, Mass., hires a new employee or promotes a current worker to a new position, it takes time to review its employee handbook with that person. Included in that handbook are the firm’s policies concerning the protection of customer credit/payment information, the backing up of computers and data, and the use of email while in the workplace. And while the latter doesn’t dive quite as deeply as Shea’s Manager Greg Stratis would like, he said the policies do spell out the company’s acceptable use policies for email.
“We focus on the fact that our email system can’t be used for personal/private use,” said Stratis. “That point is clearly conveyed in our employee manual, which also discusses the fact that company email can be monitored by us at any time.”
In fact, Stratis said he’s had to monitor worker email in the past, although he said nothing major came out of the exercise. For the most part, he said that oversight took place due to customer-related issues, and because some workers weren’t using proper email etiquette – ending emails politely, not using all caps in the messages and so forth.
According to Stratis, email usage policies fall under one of the precaster’s primary policies, which is spelled out in its employee handbook as: “It is extremely important that we all use good business judgment.” He said the company hasn’t run into any issues regarding confidentiality or the release of any proprietary information via email.
“I’m sure we could be doing more in this area, but so far our approach has worked out well for us,” Stratis said.
Cutting up the passwords
Along with good email policies, Mitchell also advises precasters to use “employee exit” rules that take into account a worker may have access to internal files on a password-protected server.
“If you’re letting an employee go, you’ll want to change all of his or her administrative passwords, email passwords or other access options before you even sit down to deliver the news,” said Mitchell. “These days, it’s extremely easy for someone who has access to a computer system or company email to destroy or steal company information with just a few keystrokes.”
And while we all want to believe the best in everyone, the fact is that disgruntled ex-employees can wreak havoc on a company’s computers and even its very livelihood.
“A lot of companies don’t really think that way, or it doesn’t occur to them that someone might do that,” Mitchell warns. “But in the heat of the moment, someone who might otherwise be very rational might just go in and delete a whole bunch of really critical files or grab them and release them on the Internet. It’s much easier to create mischief and mayhem now with how connected everything and everyone is.”
Establishing good rules
When implementing email usage policies for the workplace, Susan Bassford Wilson, an attorney and e-Law Practice Group co-chair at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, in St. Louis, Mo., said precasters should look carefully at their “exposure” levels.
“While it may be hard to justify the budget to revise or create a handbook and/or proactive policies, the bottom line is that investing proactively in policies can positively impact your bottom line,” Wilson said. “Put simply, it’s much cheaper to invest in a well-drafted handbook that addresses some of these common issues than it is to litigate.”
As a starting point, Wilson said an attorney who has experience with workplace/human resources law can lend a hand in crafting policies concerning email usage in the workplace. When developing those policies, she said precasters should create one that addresses management/leadership and another for plant and office workers.
“This is important because the actions of your management employees can actually have a different binding effect on the company than the actions of a non-managerial employee,” Wilson said.
Once a policy is drafted, Wilson strongly urges precasters to train their management employees on the related rules and requirements. And finally, she said precasters should factor in their individual challenges, needs and requirements when creating their policies – to ensure that the verbiage effectively addresses those issues. Different companies have different needs when it comes to email and technology. In a manufacturing facility, for example, only 10 to 25% of employees may even have a company email account.
And don’t forget to include social media rules under the umbrella, said Wilson, since many firms are now using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms for both internal and external communications.
“If you do have authorized social media accounts for your company, be sure to include good usage policies around those accounts as well,” said Wilson. “The key is to be as thorough and defined as possible in order to ward off any potential issues in this area.”
Why Retaining Email is Important
Email retention is yet another aspect of a company’s good electronic communication usage policy.
“This is something that I can’t impress upon companies enough,” said Mitchell. “Email retention really is a critical part of any firm’s written email policy and it should basically say that any message that comes into the system should be saved for X number of days or months, retained forever or some other measure. It doesn’t matter what the specific policy is, but it does matter that you have a policy.”
Ultimately, Wilson said precasters that take the time to set up straightforward email usage policies for the workplace will have a leg up if and when issues arise.
“If something comes up, there can be no question later on as to whether the employee did something , because you had a policy clearly setting your expectations,” Wilson said. “Having a policy also makes it easier to discipline an employee and ensure that the same situation doesn’t happen again.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.