my friend is sending me unprofessional emails at work

A reader writes:

I have a question for you about email at work. A friend/former classmate and I are both in our first professional jobs since graduating from college. We work in the same city and have similar jobs, although in completely different fields. We occasionally email each other during the work day using our company email addresses. (I know that you have written about work vs. personal email before, but this is very common at my office and most of my coworkers use their work account as their primary address. I’m not sure about the guidelines around this at her office.)

My issue is that my friend will often say things that are unprofessional in these email messages. In one, for example, she asked me how my job search is going. My contract is ending soon at my current position and everyone at my office knows that I am not planning to apply to have it extended, but it’s still not something that I would discuss in an email from my work account. She has also complained about some of her coworkers, and has also made a few rather rude and inappropriate comment about these same people. Much of what she says in her messages would be fine in a personal text message or discussed while venting about stresses over coffee. She doesn’t swear or say anything that would be NSFW, it’s just stuff that I don’t want in my work email account and would never consider writing myself.

As I mentioned, we have similar job titles but we work in totally different fields, so I’m not worried about any issues related to conflict of interest or anything else really work-related. (I also delete any messages from her that I feel might be inappropriate.) But I’m concerned that she could be hurting her chances of being rehired when her contract is up, or creating conflict in her workplace if these messages come out. Although the chances of me getting involved are slim to none, I would also hate for my name to come up related to some of her comments.

Am I putting too much thought into this? Would it be out of place for me to say something about the professionalism of her messages? Any thoughts that you have about dealing with this would be appreciated.

No, you’re not over-thinking it, you’re right to be concerned, and you should say something. You should also start using Gmail or another personal email account when your emailing with friends at work. (Or you could, uh, stop doing so much personal emailing when you’re at work, regardless of which account you’re using, but that’s a different conversation.)

You don’t own your work email account. Your employer does. And they absolutely can monitor it or go into it to find something when you’re on vacation or check it when they suspect someone leaked something to the media, or all kinds of other situations that could lead to them reading these emails between you and your friend. And while reasonable employers don’t do that in any but the most dire situations, (a) sometimes dire situations occur, and (b) not every employer is reasonable. Far from it.

Because of that, you shouldn’t write anything on a work email account that you wouldn’t be comfortable with your employer seeing. And you also shouldn’t receive anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with your employer seeing, which means that you need to tell your friend to cut it out, because she’s putting both of you at risk.

But really, this is so, so easily solved by using non-work email accounts for these messages. I don’t care that it’s normal at your workplace for people to use their work accounts for personal things. They can do that if they want, but you need to stop — because you have a friend who lacks judgment in what she sends you there … and also because you sound like you care about your professional reputation, and it will do your reputation no good to have it seen that you spend part of the workday exchanging these types of messages.

So the solution here isn’t to tell her to be more discreet in what she sends you, because then you’re relying on her judgment for your job security, and she’s already shown you that she has questionable judgment in this realm. The solution is to cut her off from your work account entirely. Tell her that effective immediately, she should not email you at work and should only email you at your personal account. Then stick to it.

And consider drastically cutting back on this kind of emailing while you’re at work, no matter what account you’re using. You’re in your first job out of school. Don’t you want to err on the side of professionalism and work ethic?

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Sydney Bristow*

    If either of your companies are ever involved in a lawsuit, there is a chance that an attorney like me will wind up reading them some day. I have never met most of the people who are on the emails I review, but I absolutely know who is having an affair, who is remodeling their home and what items are going in it, who secretly hates who at the office, etc. This doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on you, but I wanted to add to the point that other people may read it at some point. You have no control over it.

    1. dejavu2*

      +1! As an attorney, I’ve literally read through thousands of emails for lawsuits, and once you do that you will never use your work email for anything personal ever again. Seriously. Gossip. Affairs. Backstabbing. Photos of so-and-so looking fat at the Christmas party. Keep it in your gmail.

    2. tcookson*

      Even just a co-worker, not even an attorney, could end up seeing those emails. One time my manager asked another co-worker and me to check the email of an employee who had just been fired to see if there were any customer orders in there. We ended up seeing emails between him and his wife where she was tormenting him with the fact that she was having an affair, telling him the explicit details, and daring him to be man enough to do anything about it. We couldn’t figure out if she was really having an affair and provoking him with it, or if that exchange was some kind of sex game the two of them were playing. Anyway . . . we sure didn’t expect to see anything like that when we went looking for customer orders in his email!

      1. Omne*

        That’s one of the reasons I always make a quick check of the email accounts for employees that have left before I have someone else comb over it for work related stuff. If I catch that type of thing I delete it, if not at least I tried. I’m constantly amazed, and sometimes repulsed, by the stuff that I run across.

  2. Susan A.*

    Whoa, I agree 100% about all of this- and to further the point, you will most likely lose that e-mail account when you leave that job. Any info that you wanted to keep that’s personal is now gone to you.

    To go a step further than that, I have a “professional” gmail and a “private” gmail (and one other e-mail address as well- busy gal) for all home use. That way, I have a professional sounding e-mail for times when I’m job hunting or e-mailing professionals and I can still have my personalized sparklyfroofrootwinkle@gmail* type address that my friends can e-mail me at as well that reflects my personality. This keeps all of it separate and there’s very little overlap- no accidentally forwarding something to the wrong person via auto-fill or reply all drama, etc.

    *Not my real email address.

    1. Josh S*

      ^^Checks to see if sparklyfroofrootwinkle is available at…

      It *IS*. There is still time if you want it! :)

      1. Chinook*

        Would it be wrong to judge someone who then uses the email address sparklyfroofrootwinkle#2 ?

        1. Sandrine*

          I have way too many Gmail adresses to sound like a reasonable person.

          One of them, though, is tardislunatic, and I’m quite happy I managed to snatch that one, along with happyrainbowcloud xD .

            1. Sandrine*

              *bows in return*

              And to think that’s because I originally got a crush on a fan… I’m not even to the Weeping Angels stage yet, despite having a shirt with a reference to them. Can’t wait till I get to see them even though I will probably be too frightened to enjoy properly :D

              *officially authorizes use of said e-mail for fangirling and other fan exchanges LOL*

              1. Josh S*

                Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.

                I have a FANTASTIC theory about the ‘Blink’ episode, but that is for another time/place.

          1. Felicia*

            Love seeing all the fellow Whovians! Anyone I saw with that email I would automatically think is cool. Also the weeping angels are terrifying. I can’t pass a statue of an angel anymore without staring at it.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Yes to your first paragraph.

      Although I sort of wonder if its her work is her primary email simply because the LW doesn’t use email at home much any more. The relevence of my home email has dropped up so much since everyone got a facebook account. Almost none of my email is actually personal now-a-days. People who have my email now even message me there instead of sending an email.

      1. Josh S*

        Yesterday was a typical email day for me–possibly a little slow. Not counting ‘daily deal’ emails, spam, or other auto-notifications, I have 16 different email threads/conversations (Gmail groups them) representing at least 20 separate incoming emails. For at least 13 different themes/topics/groups: My child’s upcoming birthday party, hosting friends in our house, local civic involvement, Fantasy Football draft scheduling, networking on a friend’s behalf, job hunting, dinner planning, etc etc etc.

        When people say they manage all of that through Facebook, (subject lines? ability to have different conversations with the same person grouped separately? working search functionality? reasonable storage?), I simply cannot fathom how I would attempt such a thing.

        Everyone is different. I know quite a few people for whom Facebook works. But when Facebook announces the ‘death’ of Email while rolling out their messaging software, I simply laugh.

        1. Emily K*

          I’m with you. I only use Facebook for quick messages to distant contacts. Anyone I’m close to or need to send a longer message to gets an email.

        2. Rana*

          I don’t do it except for specific instances, but I see how one could. You set up an “event” for things like the birthday party, and chat with individual friends about the things you need to coordinate with (or send messages – the two functions overlap), share a post about a public event, and so on.

          As I say, I wouldn’t do everything that way, but it’s certainly possible.

      2. Forrest*

        Text messaging has made my email account irrelevant. (Except for job hunting and some other misc hardly even monthly things.)

      3. danr*

        What’s a Facebook? (grin). This may come as a shock, but some of us are not on Facebook.

  3. Lisa*

    Every big workplace has a list of terms that get flagged for email. Don’t use those terms, and no one will be reading your email. But there are systems admins that will your emails without the flag so why take the risk.

    My best friend found this out when we were talking via email about going to the beach that weekend, and the IT guy asked her which beach she was going too. She couldn’t access outside email back then even on her phone, so we just started using subject lines like :

    Need Response on Q4 Initiative
    Q3 Budgeting
    Anything mentioning a Q

    Of course, one time she ignored a real email about the next quarter so it was prob not the best system.

    1. KarenT*

      Every big workplace has a list of terms that get flagged for email. Don’t use those terms, and no one will be reading your email.

      That’s only true of IT. Your manager and HR can go in to your email at any time, for any reason. Your manager can go in innocently to look for something when you’re on vacation, to investigate any complaints….or just because she feels like it. You’re a lot smarter to assume that every email you send from your work account may be read.

    2. V*

      I like, Sydney Bristow above, routinely review emails as part of discovery for lawsuits. In one case, a few employees had a long email chain about flouting safety regulations. It was 95% likely that they were joking, and that issue wasn’t directly on point in the case, but guess what, that 5% chance that they weren’t joking could have been used to undermine the company’s credibility on issues that *were* in the case. Bottomline: Unless you have a very clear, well established legal protection (limited pretty much to lawyers & clients, doctors & patients), assume that anything you say using your work address could be read not just by your employer, but outside people as well, include some who may be looking for a way to cast your employer in a bad light.

      1. Cat*

        See, e.g., the e-mails a major law firm recently got in trouble for where they “jokingly” wrote back and forth about how many people they were assigning to a case and how high they were driving up the clients’ bills. Come on, guys.

    3. Observer*

      Not necessarily true. There are many circumstances under which email may get read. Sometimes your email gets read when someone goes through your recipient’s account. And sometimes your email gets read because you, or someone you work with, is under suspicion of something (rightly or wrongly). There are a lot of other things as well. So, as I always tell our staff: If you don’t want your mother reading it or you don’t want it on the cover of the local tabloids or any of the major news orgs, don’t put it in your work email.

  4. Chinook*

    Question to those who have the job of reading those emails – once the OP has asked the friend to stop emailing her at work, should she also set up a mailbox rule that automatically permanently deletes any emails from her addresss? Would this be good enough to CYA in case something went wrong?

    1. Tony in HR*

      No, because they’d still come in, and to HR, IT and managers, it would still look like she’s receiving them and reading them, even if she’s not responding. I know if I found something inappropriate like that, and the employee said “I set up Outlook to delete it” that wouldn’t carry much weight.

      If they DID want to go that route though, I’d suggest marking several of the friend’s messages as SPAM and let the company’s spam filter catch them before they even reach your email account instead.

      1. LV*

        But there’s only so much control the OP has over her friend’s actions. It seems really unreasonable to me that she would be punished because a third party insisted on sending her inappropriate emails at work.

        1. Tony in HR*

          That’s why I’d mark it as spam instead of just deleting them. You might think that, but when we only have your word that it’s not your fault, but we see a pattern of abuse in the past, your word can only carry so much weight. Sure, you might have gained enough political capital or the respect at the organization that it’s a lot of weight, but OP isn’t in that position.

          The best advice I think I can give is to avoid the very appearance of evil.

          Ask the friend to knock it off, give them your personal address, then mark their email address as spam.

  5. Anonymous*

    Um, is it also unprofessional and demonstrative of a bad work ethic to spend the workday reading and commenting on blogs? And checking for replies and commenting on those? All day? The OP said the emails are occasional, which sounds like once a day or maybe even a few a week. If some of the regulars here put a lid on the bloviating during business hours and focused on work, the discussions wouldn’t pick up and comment count would go *way* down.

    1. Chinook*

      Hey – I resemble that! Actually, I only comment when work is slow and then I have a pile of reading at night.

      At the moment, things are very slow!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t encourage any entry-level employee to spend work time reading and commenting on blogs, unless it’s while they’re eating lunch or something like that, for the same reason that I wouldn’t encourage them to regularly send chatty personal emails from work.

      Once you’re established in your career, you usually have more flexibility with your time and more room to use your own judgment about when it is and isn’t okay to do something personal, and for how long. You’re also more likely to have established a solid reputation and not be in the early stages of needing to create one. For instance, if I saw a senior-level employee who did good work reading a blog or in personal email, I wouldn’t care; they’re a known quantity. If I saw someone in their first job out of school doing the same thing, I’m much more likely to take note.

      If some of the regulars here put a lid on the bloviating during business hours and focused on work, the discussions wouldn’t pick up and comment count would go *way* down.

      My goal here isn’t to raise the comment count. It’s to give people good advice. (Also, that’s rude, by the way.)

      1. Tony in HR*

        I remember reading studies that participating in fantasy football the NCAA tourney brackets, and similar activities actually helps productivity. I see reading and commenting on blogs in the similar activities categories.

        That said, if you’re entry level or new to the company, IMO, you need to avoid it until you’re established and proven yourself. You don’t want to get caught as the guy who was making fantasy football trades, or reading fanfic on company time, because that stigma does not go away.

      2. Carlotta*

        So rude! For what it’s worth I like to read a bit of AAM first thing in my UK morning. :-)
        And this is a really healthy community. Worth eating breakfast with and much better than good morning TV. Vive AAM.

    3. A Bug!*

      In addition to AAM’s excellent point, there are a lot of jobs which have significant downtime built in to them. Your suggestion that regular commenters are de facto neglecting their jobs is presumptuous and also comes across as a weird and unnecessary snipe.

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – and some of us have jobs that cover a lot more than 8 hours. I check work mail before I get out of bed and start responding between 5:00 – 5:30 am and am not only on call 24/7 but am responding to emails often until 10:00 – 11:00 at night.

        I’m not a workaholic – just pointing out that it’s not as if we’re on the clock for 8 hours a day and can forget about work on our personal time…some of us have a lot of bleed through between work and personal time and the lines stopped blurring ages ago – they disappeared.

        And personally if I think people are bloviating I just disregard them, but that’s me.

        1. Rana*

          Yup. I’m on the computer from about the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. And it only takes me fifteen seconds to type a comment.

      2. Anonymous*

        Well, if that’s the case, couldn’t the OP have one of those kinds of jobs as well? I admit I myself got a little defensive when I read the part in the post about work ethic, because I do a lot more non-work stuff at work than send occasional emails to a friend, and it doesn’t mean I’m a slacker or have a bad work ethic. If it was unnecessary snark, it would be unnecessary in the post too.

    4. Grace*

      Disagree. People from around the world, in different time zones, read AAM and comment. Some of us haven’t even started our work days when we’re commenting, while others have finished their work days.

  6. Jane Doe*

    A friend once got in trouble for doing this. They didn’t fire her, but she was also a high school student.

    1. A teacher*

      Nowadays it’s snapchat (the Bain of my existence) or twitter… Highly annoying when you’re trying to teach

      1. Jamie*

        Yes – can snapchat please die a quick death?!

        My daughter loves it and her android phone has issues with it so she’s forever stealing my iPad. Her friends know what she looks like – why is this necessary.

        And then she tells to use my husbands iPad (which she can’t use because snapchat doesn’t load on the older ones) but I want my feeds and bookmarks on mine. It’s quite the battle of wills!

        1. Lucy*

          SnapChat makes me feel skeevy. My husband has it to send goofy pictures to his 16 year old brother, but the idea of an application with a sole purpose of sending a picture that the other person can’t keep is not okay with me.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes, I’ve been surprised to find out that my friends use it for purposes that aren’t nefarious – sending skeevy pictures seems like the only real use to me, otherwise if the picture has no compromising content why wouldn’t you just send a regular picture message?

            I feel like this is one of the signs that I’m getting older because I just don’t get it.

  7. MentalEngineer*

    Another thing to keep in mind: employers are legally permitted to use keyloggers on your work computer. Some (less intelligent or more paranoid) companies actually do this. Using a personal email address on a keylogged computer won’t stop your employer from reading your emails AND will expose your personal password(s). They might be available to an unethical IT person, a paranoid manager or a hacker who gets into your company’s records.

    Use your smartphone instead. At least then you know the only people reading your email are Google, your cell provider, and the NSA ;)

    1. Sunshine DC*

      That’s so on point, MentalEngineer. Use a smartphone—that YOU own, not that the company provides—for ANY non-work communication or other internet use while you are at work.

  8. College Career Counselor*

    I can’t understand why you would use your work email for personal communication in this day and age. I mean, it’s not 1991 any more–no excuse for not having and using a gmail or other free account.

    And +1 to everyone who said that anything you wrote on a work email account is up for viewing by your employer. A former student of mine and one of her colleagues were badmouthing their boss on email in their first professional job. Boss overheard a snide remark and decided to see if there was more to it than that, so Boss went to email and all kinds of crazy stuff popped up. End result? Former student and colleague AND someone else got fired that day.

    1. Tina Career Counselor*

      You know what cracks me up? Married couples that share one email address! Not always in a job search capacity, but still. To your point – in this day and age with so many free options, really?

      1. Ornery PR*

        I think some couples do this as a trust thing (or possibly a lack of trust thing), not because they can’t get their own free account. I’ve seen shared facebook accounts for the same reason.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I’ve seen it recommended in some religious groups to keep the spouses from cheating or accessing pr0n.

          1. Liz in a library*

            Wow. I had no idea that was one of the reasons. I just assumed all of those couples were not tech savvy…

            1. Jamie*

              Not sure they are aware that anyone can open a free email account whenever…so having a shared one doesn’t automatically preclude others.

              It’s not driver’s license – we’re allowed more than one.

              And I will share a home, children, a bed, and a life with my husband…I will not share an email address or my toothbrush. Some things are just sacred.

              1. Harriet*

                I once sat through a meeting a manager had called of the small team I was in. He’d called the meeting because he wanted to read out a rather graphic, adult string of emails between two of the other people in that team, who sat there getting redder and redder. It was a horrible way to handle it, but it left an impression.

                1. Harriet*

                  I have no idea why that comment went there! I wanted to add it as a new comment. Fat fingers and touchscreens are obviously not a good combination.

          2. bearing*

            Also a possibility that one of the two spouses has already admitted to a problem with addiction or compulsion related to some kind of marriage-damaging behavior online, and the two have decided that complete transparency manifested in a single shared email address is a helpful means of accountability.

            1. Sophia*

              But it’s not since what prevents someone from opening up another account without telling the other?

      2. some1*

        My parents “DadSome1MomSome1@ISPprovider” is due to just lack of tech savvy. And it ruined my dad’s surprise party. Grrr.

      3. Nikki T*

        Ugh, this one bothers me. They send messages asking for assistance, don’t sign a name (its says the James’, or bob and jane smith attached to the email), I have no idea WHO I am talking to or who is writing back…

        and if it was a friend, I’d never send them an email. Shared FB accounts also get on my nerves…

        1. danr*

          Not signing an email is just rude.
          But why should those of us who share have to conform to your rules?

          1. Liz T*

            You just said why: Not signing is rude.

            Not that you should HAVE to conform. No one’s proposing a law be made.

          2. Cait*

            You don’t. But the rest of us don’t have to communicate with you via email if we’re not comfortable with the idea of not knowing which one of you is reading or responding at any given time.

      4. danr*

        Nothing odd in it. It saves time and keeps the household moving. We also have a common gmail account for some stuff. And we have our own email accounts for professional stuff. It keeps the clutter in the inboxes under control, but we forward as neeeded.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Our old landlord had a habit of only emailing either my partner or myself (he had both email addresses, but seemed to prefer choosing one at random for some reason), so we both set up filters in Gmail that automatically forwarded emails from him to the other person.

      5. Elizabeth*

        My parents have a shared email address and then each have their own, but in reality it’s actually my mom who checks all three… my dad pretty much refuses to enter the 21st century. So, for example, my dad’s employer will send him an email about scheduling, my mom will read it, and then she’ll give him a call about it. Sometimes he’ll then have her write back on his behalf! It would drive me CRAZY if I were her.

        1. Cassie*

          There’s a professor who has his wife check and reply to emails on his univ. email address – the wife signs the emails w/ his name. It’s not a secret, either. All the staff know about this (because he’s mentioned it). Probably would be a violation of student privacy laws, if students are emailing him, but I don’t think anyone has brought it up yet.

      6. Anonymous*

        Ugh, I hate when I have to contact someone like that, especially when they use it while job searching. I always feel like I have to put the person’s first name in the subject, so Bob doesn’t delete something meant for Maria.

    2. Sydney*

      Some people feel that a couple should share an email address like they share a mailbox. Couple likes this tend to be of the “We” variety…there is no Brad and Angelina, it’s just Brangelina.

      I understand the reasons behind it and that’s not a partnership I’d want to have, but whatever floats your boat.

      1. Judy*

        We use a remailer for our emails. So my husband and I each have at least one email address. But we also have one that sends a copy into each of our email accounts. For things like bank notices, school stuff for the kids, rewards cards from stores, etc.

        1. Vicki*

          We do the same. Persnal addresses for each of us; shared address for things we share (e.g. contact messages from the bank, stores…)

      2. Tina Career Counselor*

        That’s definitely not my thing, but personal preference aside, I wouldn’t recommend it as your job search email. It isn’t always perceived as the most professional thing, after all, the company would only be working with you, the employee, not your spouse.

        I also find it kind of creepy on the sender’s end. On the personal side, I wouldn’t want my bff’s husband reading emails that I send her about what’s going on in my life, there are some things I simply wouldn’t want him to know about me. She and I have had several awkward conversations about things I do not want shared with him.

        1. the gold digger*

          I brought this issue up with a (now divorced) friend who shared an email with her husband. When I pointed out that there might be things I wanted to write about for her eyes only, she said, “But I tell him everything anyhow.”

          1. Tina Career Counselor*

            I can be very private about some things, and there are just some things he does not need to know. Plus, I simply don’t like him much. I’m on the edge of withholding information from her that I previously would have talked about, which is sad and disappointing since we’ve been best friends for almost 20 years. I understand that she’s chosen to spend her life with him, but I haven’t, and I’m just not comfortable with him knowing certain things. If I can’t trust her to keep my confidence, then I’m just not going to tell her.

            1. Jamie*

              Some people get that privacy isn’t the same thing as secretive.

              I don’t want my kids telling people how much I make, but that’s because it’s private not a secret I’m hiding or ashamed of. (Maybe a little ashamed, but I had such high hopes for myself when I was a child…my teachers were right, I am not living up to my full potential.)

              You just don’t want to have a personal conversation in front of a third party. I totally get that.

      3. Layla*

        Was totally agreeing with all these comments until I realised I have a common email set up with husband !

        It was set up for people to RSVP for our wedding invites ( not from the US, don’t judge on wedding etiquette !)

        We haven’t used it since. Wonder if people found that creepy.
        Some people did remark on it tho

    3. Jamie*

      I don’t know – maybe my personal email is just wicked boring but I do it…but I also totally agree with no sending anything I would care if my employer read. I.e. I’m okay with them knowing I am having lunch with my sisters on Saturday and that my husband is taking youngest child to orthodontist and will pick up milk.

      I really need more exciting mail – that was as juicy as I get.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yeah, my husband and I email using work addresses as well, but it’s always about how daycare drop off went, they need more diapers, you might want to give her some Tylenol tonight for teething, etc. I personally think being able to quickly send these messages to each other rather than make phone calls helps us to be more efficient and less disruptive to colleagues. It’s not a constant stream, just quick messages to keep the household running and the toddler alive. I would think a workplace would rather me get these things taken care of (if they are reasonably quick) so I can be undistracted while I’m working.

        1. Anonymous*

          Also, I would use my smartphone instaed if everyone didn’t automatically assume that people are playing around on them. I once had a supervisor tell me not to play on my phone at work when I was scheduling an important work meeting in my calendar so I would remember to wear a suit that day and not business casual.

          I do keep it in my pocket so daycare can text me with quick questions rather than calling the main number and having someone have to look for me. Sometimes the assumption that smartphone use at work is always unprofessional is a bit annoying (and I’ve never been one to just play on it on work time).

        2. Jamie*

          Absolutely. Just like when my kids were younger knowing that school could reach me any time and they could call if something was wrong gave me the peace of mind to work without worrying about it.

          Huge difference between keeping a toddler alive (love that!) and long chatty emails about how much work sucks.

  9. Brton3*

    I have read a number of little essays and studies recently refuting the notion that occasionally dipping into newspapers, blogs, facebook, and personal email during the work day is a sign of a poor work ethic. Taking small breaks during the day, reading the New York Times for 5 minutes every two hours, peeking at facebook now and then, and the like seem to be better for your productivity than trying to concentrate on work and only work for 4 uninterrupted hours and then taking a scheduled 15 minute break and then diving back into your work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Could be. I will still judge an entry-level employee for sending long chatty emails to friends during the work day. I know I’m much more strict on this than many, but it looks like slacking off to me.

      1. KarenT*

        I find that idea old-fashioned, and yet I couldn’t agree with you more. There is something to be said for proving yourself.

        1. tcookson*

          “There is something to be said for proving yourself.”

          I’m about to sound old and crotchety here, but what’s with all the newly-graduated entry-level workers who assume that they’re supposed to start out getting the same treatment/perks as more senior employees? Like the receptionists who complain that the directors have more flexible hours than they do, for example (I’ve heard this one from several of our string of receptionists). They seem to genuinely not get that there is a progression of perks (or just a general loosening of constraints) on the way from entry level to senior level, and that they aren’t automatically entitled to any perk that they see someone else getting.

          1. Brton3*

            Do you really think this is drastically different from how entry level workers felt 30 years ago? I’ve never thought about it.

          2. Liz T*

            Let’s keep in mind, also, that this has nothing to do with the OP–who seems to be keenly aware how her behavior might reflect upon her.

      1. Brton3*

        Well, in my opinion, that’s where the work ethic comes in. It’s a nice relief-slash-reward to read one or two articles, but you need the self-control to go back to work right away and not decide to see what’s going on at Slate and the next thing you know its been a half hour.

  10. Sandrine*

    As for professional e-mail, I have given it to a few trusted people (including my mother) just in case something urgent came up and they couldn’t reach me by phone.

    I have warned people extensively, however, and so far, it has worked wonders :) . I can’t play on e-mail too often anyway as I am in a call centers, but sometimes, when it’s slow… you can only read the internal “wiki” so many times before your head explodes xD .

  11. KarenT*

    If you’re manager sees those emails, the consequences wouldn’t be worth it. It can really colour your reputation.
    A previous co-worker of mine left our company, so her email address was turned over to her manager for monitoring. Her manager was looking for something and found a whole whack of emails in her sent mail that were between her and couple of women that still work at the company. They were nastily gossiping about people (in mean ways, making fun of people’s weight and clothing) and venting about their bosses. The remaining people got in trouble, and the woman who left really damaged her reputation and lost what would have been a great reference.

    1. Jamie*

      Along these lines, it’s not a good idea to email a co-worker about what a humorless bitch the new IT is if the co-worker is about to be let go and the new IT is the one going through the email.

      I’m okay with bitch – but humorless…that kind of hurt.

    2. some1*

      This happened at my old job. Nobody liked my old manager because she was power hungry and tried to be everyone’s boss. I knew she had it in for me so I never vented about her over email, but my co-workers sent me plenty of emails venting about her and making fun of her.

      After I was laid off I assume she got access to my old email, because that was protocol, but she immediately started treating my friends even worse than before.

  12. Brett*

    Non-work email accounts only protect you if you never use those email accounts at work. If you ever access your personal email at work, you should assume that your employer now has access to your personal email and is reading it. Court opinions have wavered back and forth and vary by state, but in general an employer can legally read your personal email if you used work systems to access it as long as their is a legitimate business purpose to reading your personal email.
    (There are even services that will harvest all of your personal email for your employer and send them copies.)

    The company’s acceptable use policy will often grant the company permission to intercept and store all electronic communications on company property or equipment. Reading over the AUP can give you a pretty clear indication if your personal communications are being intercepted.

    Unfortunately, there are even ways to access your smartphone communications if your company has a cellular access point installed in the building. Not sure if this has been challenged in court at all yet.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You might have researched this more thoroughly than me, but my understanding from the court decisions I’ve seen is that they CANNOT access your personal email because you have a reasonable expectation of privacy for it (unlike your work email). However, if you access it from a work machine, they could certainly log anything that appears on your work computer screen; they just couldn’t access it afterwards, when you weren’t in it. No?

      1. Brett*

        Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc. is a Georgia specific case, but it shows how far a company AUP can be pushed. In that instance, the employee was using their personal laptop at work to access their personal email over a company public network. The CEO actually used the employee’s personal laptop while the employee was out of their office to hack the employee’s personal email and print out emails.

        Georgia courts held employees had no right to privacy in their personal email accounts when used over employer’s network, and further that the employee did not even have a right to privacy in their personal equipment on the employer’s premises (so don’t leave your smartphone laying out at work in Georgia).

        Key to the case, though, was that the company had a legitimate business interest in hacking the employee’s personal email, investigating a breach of duty of loyalty (i.e. helping a competitor, in this case the employee’s wife).

        1. Jamie*

          Interesting. I don’t allow personal devices on my network, so I wasn’t aware of this…this is surprising.

          People should keep in mind, though, that yes you should treat the company network properly and not do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your boss…but most places wouldn’t think of hacking your personal email.

          If I were ever asked to do this (as if) I’d quit before ever accessing anyone’s personal email. That’s the line I’d draw – even though the law allows more leeway it seems.

          Then again nothing I hate more than reading other people’s emails. They always leave me feeling completely bored or horribly dirty…it’s just a squicky part of the job I wouldn’t willingly expand.

          1. Judy*

            I’d be really curious, we have a system with the ability to request a guest wifi account for non-employees who are in our facility. Generally used for our vendors, we can request up to 5 days of access at a time. These wifi accounts do not let them access our system, only allow them to access the internet to get to their own systems.

            I wonder how that works in this case.

            1. Brett*

              I think that is basically the same sort of setup used in the Georgia case. The vendors are using your hardware to get their access. But before anyone thinks of snooping their vendors this way, they have to sign off on the acceptable use policy and there has to be a legitimate business need for the snooping.

    2. Layla*

      Nobody is truly safe from anything
      You shouldn’t write on the Internet anything that might get you in trouble with the law , work , or juicy fodder for the papers.

      It might be a bit embarrassing for my personal emails to be “made public ” but I don’t think I’d get into much trouble if I complained that my client is demanding.

      Work email tho – it’s very much more likely to be turned over to colleagues /IT etc

  13. Katie the Fed*

    This seems simple to me.

    If I have a friend who is doing something that bothers me, I ask her to stop. If she continues to do the thing that bothers me after I’ve asked her to stop, she is no longer a friend.

    Friends respect boundaries.

    1. Sandrine*

      Yeah, that, too.

      Except my boundaries seem to fluctuate like currencies at times, depending on my mood, so maybe I should work on that o_O .

    2. some1*

      This. I would have no problem with someone asking me not discuss certain things over email.

    3. Sara*

      And what of friends who don’t set boundaries in teh first place but still get upset?

      I have friends who work and I text/email them at times they may be at work BUT with the understanding that they may be busy and may not reply immediately (if at all)….nor do I ever expect a quick response.

      I’d hate to think anyone would think I was disturbing them or crossing any boundaries…..and if I ever needed an urgent reply, either I’d call or specify in the email/text to respond back asap.

  14. BellaLuna*

    I totally agree with AAM’s advice. Whether your company allows it or not it is a poor business practice to use your work email for personal communication. Also, read Brett’s advice above about accessing your personal email via the company network. I would highly recommend using your personal smart phone for all non work related communication and limit your access to breaks and lunch.

    I managed a group of volunteers that included high school students and was not happy to see them checking there phones. For their two hour shift of community service they could put their phones away or I would gladly hold onto it.

  15. Anlyn*

    Be careful of what you say on IM too. I just found out that someone I chatted with copied part of our conversation as clarification for someone else, and on it were some…less than kind remarks. I feel terrible and have already notified my manager in case it goes any further. Lesson learned.

    1. A Bug!*

      It’s a good rule to live by in all your professional interactions. If you find yourself saying something that you’d be unwilling to stand behind if it happened to reach the subject, then it’s something that shouldn’t be said. I consider it a pretty important aspect of professional integrity.

        1. A Bug!*

          That’ll teach you to thumb your nose at karma! (A lesson I also learned the hard way.)

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Oh, very true. My new company uses IM and I have to constantly remind myself that it is NOT Facebook chat! I have a plain font in it, too. No Comic Sans, Jokerman, or any “pretty” stuff.

      1. Anlyn*

        I don’t like fancy fonts on IM; they hurt my eyes. But I can’t control what others use, of course. This was work-related, so I actually wasn’t as casual as I could be. But part of my comments were commiserating that the department does indeed sometimes suck, while other comments were just rude.

        I’m really hoping I didn’t shoot myself too much in the foot. I owned up to it, so here’s hoping the fallout’s not too awful.

    3. Anon555*

      I had that happen to me as well. I had made some less than kind remarks about my boss on IM and the person I was speaking to printed it out and gave it to the boss.

      In my case, it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have said to the boss’s face if she had asked me for my thoughts, but still it would have been better had she not seen it in print.

      Live and learn. This is how life goes sometimes and the lesson is to say nothing to anyone on any internet related site/device/etc. unless you’d be comfortable having it printed as headline news in every paper across the globe.

  16. CubeRat*

    Once had an employee send an inappropriate email to few other employees. It somehow got forwarded to the wrong person. They fired the person who sent the email & the ones who forwarded it (which I would expect).

    What surprised me was that they disciplined the employees who simply deleted it. Apparently, we are expected to report any inappropriate emails we receive. So you want to make sure you are aware of your company’s policies before you do anything.

  17. Sydney*

    Our email policy is that it is for work-related purposes only. We’ve gone through a fair number of employees and due to the nature of our work, we often have to access former employees’ emails. I usually just set up a new password for the account and give it to the person who took over Former Employee’s customers. If there are personal emails in there, I don’t delete them beforehand.

    Never assume you have privacy when it comes to work communications. In fact, assume that someone, somewhere is reading all of your emails. Make sure they’re something to be proud of and not embarrassed by.

  18. Jamie*

    Oh – just a PSA for those of you who use work emails as personal email. It’s a bad idea for accounts like your bank, netflix, facebook, etc.

    I cannot tell you how irritating it is to have an employee leave and ask that their mail be forwarded. No. It’s not my fault you used the employers email for your bank. Always use personal email for that because if you leave your company IT will not make sure you are notified that Netflix has shipped “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” to you.

    1. some1*

      This is so ridiculous. Why can’t the employee contact all those websites and change their email contact themselves??

      1. Nikki T*

        they shouldn’t do it in the first place! At one job, we got all this guy’s beers r us, babies r us and various catalogs, coupons…E-mail accounts are free!!

    2. Tony in HR*

      We had to write up an employee for receiving his “black beauty booty call of the day” email at work…

      Thank goodness there was no porn attached…

    3. Rana*

      Excellent point! I believe in making sure that I have full and permanent access to my personal email at all times; work accounts are just not that reliable over the long term, in my experience.

      One nice thing my alma mater has set up is a forwarding service for all its alumni – it doesn’t hold any email, just forwards it – so you can set it to point at whatever account you’re currently using. That’s the address I use for long-term accounts; if I didn’t have it, I’d want to be using something like gmail or similar to ensure that I didn’t lose something important along the way.

  19. Kris*

    I, like many here, have multiple gmail accounts. A professional one and one that I use for personal emails with friends. Very few friends have the professional one, and I plan to keep it that way. I’ve seen many friends mix the two or only have one and these are the same people who spend the day logged onto gchat during work hour.

    While I’ve certainly been guilty of chatting or emailing on a work computer, I’m conscious that it can be read and I’m certainly not going to do it when I have more pressing work related things to attend to. But I’m also not right out of college either.

  20. E.R*

    Years ago, a good friend from college and I were writing, via our work emails, about personal things. Some of it was pretty gruesome. This email trail went on for months. One day, she was trying to get the email format of her boss from their internal system, and it ended up in the cc line of her response to me. He read the. whole. thing. He had a pretty good sense of humour, but she never quite lived it down. (She was dating a co-worker at the time, and this kind of blew the lid of that to boot)

    As a rule, I dont put anything in my work email address that I wouldn’t want my whole office and my entire client roster to read because, well, that’s a possibility.

    My friend and I now correspond via gmail, and she married her coworker. :)

  21. Forrest*

    Its not really complicated – just start responding and sending her emails from your personal account. She’ll respond to where the thread is – I doubt she notices what email it is.

  22. Elizabeth West*

    Don’t these stay on the server, even if you delete them?

    *used to do this; doesn’t do it any more*

    1. Jamie*

      Depends how they have it set up.

      A lot of small/mid-sized businesses where email isn’t regulated have a back-up of certain period of time. That’s why I get to laugh heartily when someone comes to ask me to retrieve an email deleted 9 months ago.

      Other, more regulated places, store it longer. But I really wouldn’t lose sleep over snarky emails sent ages ago. The vast majority will never be seen again so just be careful going forward and d0n’t worry.

      There is nothing to worry about until there is something to worry about. :)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Whew! Thanks for setting my mind at ease, Jamie. :)

        I’m not there anymore, so it doesn’t much matter now, but yeah, I’m more careful than I used to be.

  23. Mena*

    Stop using your work email as a personal email (and it doesn’t matter if others at work are doing this).

    Wrong. Don’t do it and you won’t need to worry about this.

  24. Observer*

    Something else to keep in mind. Deleted email is not always deleted, so the fact that you deleted something does not mean that it can’t come back to haunt you.

    Some employers block outside email services, for a number of reasons. But, you still want to make sure that you don’t put anything in your work email that you don’t want the world to know. So, either get a smart phone (if you don’t have one) OF YOUR OWN, or do the personal stuff after work, if that’s the case.

  25. Pam*

    I volunteer for several professional organizations. My job supports my efforts and allows me to work on these projects when I’m at work, as long as my other work gets done and I’m meeting work deadlines. I have always had the volunteer emails go to my personal email address- gmail- because I like to keep work and volunteer stuff totally separate (I like to focus on work for 5 hours, focus on volunteer stuff for 1 hour, without being interrupted by the other topic). Gmail is infinitely easier for me to filter, label, and search and doesn’t have annoying mailbox size limits.

    Well, my work has officially blocked gmail when you are on the network. I used to be able to switch to the wireless network to use gmail but now that is also blocked. The nature of my volunteer emails is often such that responding via smartphone is extremely tedious. So sadly, I have now had to have all these non-work related emails directed to my work email. I hate it. I hate that my non-work contacts now have my work email address and because of that expect a 1-2 hour response time instead of a 2-3 day response time.

    I completely agree that personal emails like the one the OP is talking about shoud be in personal emails!! But it makes me mad my company blocked it completely so I can’t even check it on my work hour, or after work if I’m waiting for a storm to pass, etc. or in my case use gmail for a work-approved reason.

  26. EagleEye*

    You should assume that your employer may read any of your work emails. Furthermore, if your company is involved in a lawsuit, there might be other implications. Imagine everything you read or write being printed out and you on the witness stand and the opposing attorney saying “please read the highlighted portion aloud”.

  27. Wilton Businessman*

    Just blame it on IT with something like “Dude, my IT people are freaking nuts and they read all the incoming mail. Send this stuff to my personal mail at … from now on.”

  28. Bystander*

    “Never put anything in writing that you don’t want repeated or copied and pasted later”. I would delete all such messages in your sent and received email box and then delete the deleted messages from your deleted email box. Don’t assume someone coming after you will not be using your email until they get their own company email account set up or the company may leave your account open for a period of time to catch any business emails coming into your account – I’ve seen this happen over and over again. It makes you look unprofessional. Yes, tell your friend to start using your personal email and if you don’t have one then now is the time to set one up. Also, with all due respect, if you and your friend part ways, you may have some damaging emails that can be used against you. When your boss asks you about things that you got by email but you didn’t send him, you know the company is reading your email. I’ve seen many professional people tarnish their own reputation on fb, etc. with comments. Keep it professional in writing.

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