I’m afraid a coworker will find my emails trash-talking her

A reader writes:

A coworker was let go as part of a large layoff at the Fortune 500 company where I work. I recently found out that when people are let go, the employee’s manager receives access to the terminated employee’s email account.

I went back and read some of my email exchanges with this employee over the past year or two, and there is a pattern of us complaining about his manager (who I also work with but don’t directly report to). This manager tends to call in sick a lot (especially on Mondays and Fridays), attends many off-site meetings and conferences, “works from home” but doesn’t appear to be really working, and we regularly emailed back and forth about how unprofessional this is and what a slacker the manager seems to be.

Yes, I know I should NOT have been using my work email to write this kind of thing, but what, if anything, should I do now? Just assume that the manager isn’t going to go that deep into “Sent Mail” and find this stuff? Or preemptively apologize or somehow do some damage control? Our director loves this manager (despite the chronic malingering) and if it gets back to him that I have been complaining like this, he’s not going to be happy.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here:

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker keeps interrupting me while I train her
  • Should I apologize for taking feedback badly?
  • Employee keeps bugging me to interview someone
  • Using vacation time on days that my company ends up closing early

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Czhorat*

    On the emails, I wouldn’t worry too much. They get access to the terminated employee email account to be certain that project- or customer-specific information which was emailed to that employee is not forever lost. They don’t do it for the purpose of digging through months or years of random intra-office chatter.

    I’d not say anything; it’s very unlikely that they’ll notice.

    In the future, you already know this, but two things:

    1) Don’t do this over email. That leaves a trail, and you don’t want your gossip to become part of the record.
    2) Don’t do this at all. People’s roles, responsibilities, and alliances may shift, getting you into hot water if you’re a complainer. More than that, gossip and sniping about other employees and managers is part of a toxic work environment, and your participating can become part of a negative atmosphere. It’s the kind of thing that makes work worst for everyone.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Yeah; no, its possible they will dig (though Allison’s reasoning is spot on). Granted they usually have a reason to do so – but I’ve known of several instances where things came to light after a person was gone because the manager looked at email.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          I had one coworker fired and another seriously warned because of a manager’s access to a former employee’s inbox. Apparently there were some seriously inappropriate exchanges. I have the feeling that every manager inheriting an inbox in that org checks it pretty thoroughly now.

          1. Czhorat*

            That has to be a pretty high level of inappropriate. Sexual stuff? Illegal stuff?

            In any event, digging or not in this case, the overall message is correct to treat ones company email as if the boss will be reading it.

            That said, general griping isn’t really actionable and, while it won’t help your reputation, won’t get you fired either.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I agree that the chances the manager will really dig are pretty low. Low enough that it’s an extremely bad idea to bring it up at all.

          it’s also possible that some managers will see it and say, “Eh, people always complain about managers; I don’t love it, but I don’t need to make a big deal about it.”

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, I have access to multiple departed employees’ email boxes for continuity of service on long-running projects (particularly since several of them were terminated for performance deficiencies), and I’ll occasionally run across an email criticizing me or another member of the team but could only dream of having the free time or inclination to run them all down. If I found something concerning (disclosure of client information, harassment, etc.), then I would dig deeper in case it triggered any sort of mandatory disclosure or something HR needed for the “not eligible for rehire” box. Someone who just doesn’t like me personally? Don’t care.

          I did have one employee’s box I ended up having to do searches for profanity in so that, when we released the client files at the end of the matter, they only got the ones that included case record information, not just the guy complaining about his job inside a thread about the project. I would be glad to never have to do that again.

        4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I would say it depends on why the person was let go. A round of layoffs and they were just on the low end of the seniority list, low odds. If they were laid off because they had issues, then I’m digging all the way down.

          We had to let a person go, their performance was atrocious and they called in frequently. It wasn’t working out. I went through their email pretty deeply, poorly written emails and worse, emails thrown away that had active orders that were never entered. Ick.

      1. I'm that manager*

        Yes, and I had to do that. Go through three years of emails to see all the balls that were dropped. Tedious and no fun at all.

      2. Bunny Girl*

        Yep. I had a manager dig through the emails that my friend and I had sent back and forth after I quit. They called my friend in to HR to talk to her about them. She actually left shortly after that. Like everyone else did because that was the most toxic environment ever.

    2. JokeyJules*

      if nothing else, consider this worrying that you’re experiencing the consequence for doing that, and don’t do it again.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I totally agree that the manager probably won’t be digging in deeply, it’s a research archive more than anything!

      However, I get the access to email boxes after I take over someone’s role. I do dig through things to learn about what’s been going on, how things are handled, etc. Woah nelly you find some stuff that people don’t realize may be read by your replacement.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I liked Alison’s point that someone known for slacking is the least likely bad manager to spend a lot of time digging through years of their departed employee’s emails.

        1. MassMatt*

          It was a g00d point and the most likely explanation yet who knows, maybe the slacking manager is spending all her time reading employee email, we have certainly seen lots of letters from people complaining about managers demanding to be ccd on every email, installing spy cams, etc.

          With all the different means of communicating at our disposal nowadays it’s just lazy to discuss anything personal on work email, let alone badmouthing a manager. Take it as a a lesson learned OP!

    4. Stuff*

      Totally agree I’ve had this in reverse where I was told sketchy things by a coworker who became my boss. Really made the relationship difficult. Then when she wanted to get a job in another group and they came to me for info on her I couldn’t give her a glowing recommendation.

    5. Phoenix Programmer*

      Going to add or office IM (e.g. Skype, slack, office messenger) as many of these auto archive and email conversations to either the senders or an admin archival.

    6. fiverx313*

      i do know someone who got fired in a similar circumstance… but i think they were looking for a reason to fire her anyway.

    7. The Imperfect Hellebore*

      Yes, I’d agree that they’re going to keep those email accounts open just in case, but it’s unlikely you’ll get caught. I don’t think there’s much you can do, OP, in this situation, other than work like a demon so that you can prove yourself if necessary. The chances of someone coming along and asking you to answer for yourself are tiny, and if your work is good, I woudn’t worry.

    8. CJ*

      I’ve found its mostly to check the inbox because clients might not know the employee is gone and email them.

  2. RedinSC*

    Oh, I’ve been there, LW. A coworker left and her manager found the emails that we wrote to each other complaining about her. Ugh. She sent me a nasty note, that’s for sure. Fortunately for me, I had also already left the organization, but still, it felt so bad.

    I used this as a learning moment and have not engaged in that kind of communications since. I hope this supervisor doesn’t dig deep like the one I was dealing with, but if she does and says anything, you can just apologize and vow to yourself to keep those thoughts to yourself.

    1. WellRed*

      The manager wrote you a nasty note? Frankly, I think that was wrong too. Sometimes you gotta pretend you saw nothing.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Yeah I would send that to HR of the other company and CC their boss if I had the contact with a note like:
        “I wanted to let you know that Fergus reached out to me with the below note about a performance issue I had. While I admit this was a mistake I have since learned from, I left company over [timeframe] ago. His reaching out to discuss a non emergency work issue me was jarringly I professional so I wanted to let you know it had happened.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I wouldn’t! I don’t need the HR folks there to have that info about me, should anyone ever contact them in the future.
          I’m not going to shoot MYSELF in the foot just to get someone else in trouble.

          I’d figure that the nasty note was appropriate “payment” for the complaining I’d done, and chalk it up to experience.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            I would it see it as shooting myself in the foot. The manager reaching out to chastise a former employee is outrageously unprofessional much more so then the common albeit ill advised complaining about bosses via email. If the company is remotely well run they would address the managers behavior.

        2. Gloucesterina*

          I’m not sure how RedinSC would benefit from having this type of discussion with their former employer – can you say more?

        3. RedinSC*

          Well, I had left first, then my friend who I was writing the stuff to/from. But the manager was on her way out, retirement. There was no upside, she was leaving, she would have no impact on other employees in the future. I just chalked it up to a learning experience for myself.

  3. LizB*

    My question to OP #1: Does this manager’s presence or absence have an impact on your work? If so, that’s something to raise with your own manager in a problem-solving way (“I’m finding that Jane is out a lot when I need her approval on X, how do you think I should solve that?”). And if not, your perception that she’s malingering is really irrelevant. 40% of sick days are taken on either Monday or Friday… because those two days make up 40% of the working week. Off-site meetings and conferences are often crucial parts of a job, and how much someone works on a WFH day may not be readily apparent to you depending on the nature of their work. It’s entirely possible for someone to be professional and productive even if you don’t see the evidence of it.

    1. Mean Girls: The Sequel*

      This is spot on and the last sentence is so key. Speaking as someone who found unfiltered chats between direct reports (in the same scenario laid out by OP #1), they made so many assumptions – that I had no reason to delegate a task to them because “what did I even do?” or that the last minute nature of an assignment was my fault, not possibly the result of a dozen people being slow in getting me what I needed. There’s always some context you aren’t seeing. It’s always healthy to take a step back and imagine what factors you might not be aware of. I have tried to employ this approach because since finding out what my team thought of me, I reexamined how I talk about OTHER coworkers that I, in turn, think poorly of.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I think there’s something to note here about the manner in which you are giving information and setting expectations.

        If YOU know that you’re waiting on information but that it has taken so long it will need a short turn-around, it behooves you to advise your employee of that. Because from your perspective, you’re handing it off as soon as you can – from their perspective, their day has been interrupted by a last minute task they had no idea was coming.

        People tend to operate better when they have a decent picture of what they need to manage their time around. For example, I will absolutely allow a project to stretch out an extra half hour/hour/day if I know there’s not much else I have to work on and I can afford to take it a little slow or give it some thinking time. Or I can afford to take 15 extra minutes at lunch to go pick up something. Adding a seeming last-minute task that now means I have to rush to do both because I slacked a little thinking I had nothing on the horizon. If it happens often enough that I can’t find a balance between anticipating it correctly and twiddling my thumbs, I am going to be aggravated. And I’m going to see it as a sign of your poor management if I have no other perspective to tell me differently.

        So… just to say that yes, keep in mind the benefit of the doubt, also remember that helping your employees to have a better perspective of what’s going on with your workload and theirs is part of managing them.

        1. Observer*

          It’s not always possible or practical to share that information, though. So while I agree that it’s good to share as much as possible, that’s not always realistic.

          1. animaniactoo*

            You don’t have to share what you’re waiting on – just that you’re waiting on details and will then have it ready to pass off to them. Unfortunately gathering all the information is taking longer than expected, so the turnaround time will be tight. The point is more making it clear that rush work is upcoming, than who is responsible that it will be rush. If you’re relatively consistent about “this will be coming” when you’re waiting to handoff, it will automatically be perceived to be less “you didn’t bother to do anything about it/give it/etc.” because there will already be the perception that you are working on it.

            Sometimes you can’t share – but that would be a clear nature of the job kind of thing that I would expect the employees to understand if that were consistently the case. If it’s not, then the heads up the rest of the time will be more likely to be seen as the outlier situation that it is.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      My manager will take M & F off for a sick day b/c he really IS sick. His reasoning is that he’ll have hte weekend to recover. Just b/c a few people lied and now it’s become a “wink wink nudge nudge” thing doesn’t mean people can’t really be sick.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Mondays are usually my “i can’t” mental health days. like I literally cannot because of my mental health. Legit sick days but I am leery of how it looks and usually power through for that reason, even when I could really use the break.

      2. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, I actually hate to take sick days midweek because it just messes up the whole week. I’ll take a Friday (and very occasionally a Monday) just because it doesn’t interrupt the rest of the week’s flow.

      3. pony tailed wonder*

        Some people also take those days off because they can’t get in to see a doctor on Saturday or Sunday because their doctor’s office is closed on the weekend. So you need to go on a Friday or have to wait until Monday to get in.

  4. Roscoe*

    For #4 I totally agree. I feel that if someone is personally referred by another employee, or even if someone just passes along the resume of a contact, that applicant should ALWAYS get contacted in some way, even if its to say “You aren’t a fit for what we are looking for at this time”. My last job, I had a couple of people I referred, and they never contacted them at all, and it really made me think differently about our HR. I’m not saying they should have been given preferential treatment, or even a courtesy interview, but at least tell them where they stand.

  5. Not Today Satan*

    I’ve been the boss getting access to departed staff inboxes. I think I could accurately be described as a drama llama, but even I knew better than to dig around for drama fuel. If this person *does* go back through the archives and finds your emails, they’d need to admit to that in order to confront you… and I don’t think anyone wants to have to say, “I searched his emails for your name and then went back 500 pages.” Don’t worry about it.

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t think it’s as much about someone intentionally trying to read thousands of emails to dig for drama fuel, it’s about accidentally running across things.
      I needed information on the Alpha Project, so I searched Ex-Employee’s email for items with that phrase and one email thread about Alpha devolved into “ugh, that Anty, he’s such a pain in the…”
      Or I knew I needed an email from around mid-December because that’s when we were discussing the new teapot design, so when I was skimming the titles of emails from that week trying to locate the information, one of the emails was one titled “Lol, Anty is such an idiot” so I opened it.
      Then, after I unintentionally run into one of these emails, it caused me to look more detailed and carefully and find the rest of them.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        I’m confused, is this a hypothetical or something that has happened IRL? If I saw a rude comment about me in an email, it wouldn’t make me dig further. If anything, the opposite.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          If I am the boss i would dig to see the extent of coaching I need to do. A one off vent vs dozens of these are different conversations. If I am their coworker I would forward that one to the sender with something like – hey just so you know I was given access to this inbox for work reason and saw this. I would appreciate if you could bring any issues up to me directly.

          The coworker can squirm thinking I read a the nasties and hopefully will learn to not badmouth people on email but I would dig for me crap about myself.

          1. Anoncorporate*

            Curious – what do you get from doing this? Do you think that confronting the employee will make them respect you overnight?

            Like yeah – it’s not a good idea to vent over e-mail, but unless you’re seeing employees confess to something they shouldn’t be doing, I don’t know what’s constructive or actionable about telling an employee you read their email.

  6. The New Wanderer*

    For #3, I had to learn this one the hard way. At my first career job, I had a manager who gave me total normal feedback that I took poorly. My supervisor saw the exchange and called me out on it later in private. He strongly encouraged me to apologize for my reaction (I hadn’t said anything regrettable but my body language just screamed defensiveness).

    The thing is, it never occurred to me to apologize before he said something, so OP3 is already ahead by realizing that it might be something to consider. I thought I was in the right, or maybe that my reaction wasn’t so noticeable. But it really made me reconsider both the content of the feedback (which was fair and justified) and how I was being perceived (like a sullen teenager). So yes, I apologized to the manager and our relationship was just fine after that blip. And I’ve been a lot more mindful of how I receive feedback since then.

    1. Need a Beach*

      You were there and we weren’t, obviously, but I’m cringing at the idea that you have to apologize for body language when you said nothing inappropriate. If your words were within professional norms, this goes down the rabbit hole of thought/emotion policing, IMO. Having a feeling (and a physical reaction to it) is not something you should have to apologize for.

      1. Marvelous Mrs. Manager*

        I hear what you are saying Need a Beach, but I respectfully disagree. I have an employee who reacts badly to any coaching and shows their displeasure both with verbal and nonverbal cues. I am addressing the issues with her, but I think nonverbal cues are important to be aware of and have self-control over.

      2. INeedANap*

        I think this is super context-related.

        Body language can include things that are obviously rude or inappropriate. Body language is still language; it’s still a crucial and very expressive form of communication. Professional norms extend far beyond literal words. Imagine someone saying, “Oh, that’s fine” in both a calm, professional tone vs. a super sarcastic, snarky tone. Technically, that’s “tone policing” – but practically, the second is very objectively unprofessional and rude.

        If you do a google image search for “sullen teenager” you’ll see many images of body language that are worth apologizing for at work.

      3. LQ*

        I could say something that with just the language would be totally fine but with body language and tone became indefensible.

        Having a feeling and a physical reaction is absolutely a thing. But expression is not just about the words you use. There is nothing you can write in words that I couldn’t say outloud with body language that cannot be shifted from the right thing to say at work to inappropriate. And that’s not even going to a place of like middle fingers all the way. That’s just using a snide smirk, or a pouty posture, or a whiney tone.

        Your whole expression is a part of how you present yourself. Have a feeling. Have a physical reaction. But realize that the way you express yourself through your body positions, tone/pitch, as well as words all matter. As do the actions you take in the wake of the expression. I can get over someone who is a little pouty when getting feedback but changes their actions, I’ll be less happy with someone who is perfectly reasonable in responding when getting feedback but doesn’t change actions. It’s got to be the whole suite. But they are all actions. None of them are thoughts. This isn’t thought policing, it’s about the actions.

      4. Lily Rowan*

        Others have already said this, but the last time I felt like I had an inappropriate response to feedback (in my case, crying), I did go back to my boss to — not exactly apologize, but make it clear that I appreciated getting the feedback and didn’t want her to think I can’t handle criticism. She said she didn’t think that at all, and I do think having the second conversation helped.

      5. hbc*

        There’s a difference between a stifled yawn and full-on yawning and stretching. Similarly, there’s a difference between folding your arms with a gruff look versus eye rolling, turning away, checking your watch, and other very obvious signals that you aren’t engaged.

      6. Phoenix Programmer*

        Yeah while that’s a nice thought in theory in practice it very much does matter.

        I have RBF. And while it would be great if people would just assume – that’s just her face they don’t. They assume I am angry and that in turn impacts their willingness to approach me. That leads to them generally reading negativity into any written items I send them and can ultimate destroy working relationships.

        So instead managers coach me and others on our body language so we can change how we are perceived to match how we want to be perceived.

      7. The New Wanderer*

        I felt it was a fair judgment on the supervisor’s part – while I didn’t say or do anything outright disrespectful, I was pretty far from absorbing the feedback in a professional manner. Probably had my arms crossed, staring at the floor, kind of waiting for it to be over, monosyllabic responses. I think my supervisor spoke up because it was really out of character for me and kind of a disproportionate reaction to some pretty mild feedback, so he approached it like a coaching moment.

      8. MassMatt*

        I disagree. Enormous amounts of communication is nonverbal.

        To take it to an extreme, would you say it was “thought/emotional policing” if, when giving someone a review, they said “ok, ok” while giving you the finger?

        Someone that slouches, doesn’t make eye contact, scowls, crosses arms, gives monosyllabic responses—this is childish behavior, we teach children not to behave this way for a reason.

  7. I'm that manager*

    I wouldn’t worry about the emails. The manager that was bad-mouthed isn’t the one who will have access to emails. As the manager who did have access email account of a report who was let go, it was no surprise to me that the employee and her cohort had lots of negative things to say about me. Truly no one cares. Mostly I needed the email to follow up with clients and everything else was just noise.

    1. fposte*

      It sounds like it is the manager that was bad-mouthed who’ll have access in this case, though. That being said, I agree that it’s just noise–and if it gets treated as other than just noise, that suggests the negative assessment of this manager is correct.

    2. Mean Girls: The Sequel*

      I’ve been that manager – the one who was bad-mouthed and found it while looking for something I needed in a departed person’s email account. Through hearing hallways conversations, I have gathered that the remaining badmouther thinks I know, but they have never stepped up to apologize……… I get that they’re in weird limbo, but it was eye opening and colors my perception of them forever. A brave apology would’ve been appreciated and respected by me, but OP#1 runs a risk here because I cannot speak for the manager in question here – I haven’t been inside their head. But if they ever did work up the courage to apologize to me, I would appreciate it and tell them to get a fresh start, now that the former employee is gone, and avoid being so catty with other colleagues period and ESPECIALLY on company email/chat/time. Use it as an opportunity to refresh, reassess who you’re spending time with at your office, treat the manager better, and grow.

      1. I'm that manager*

        Yes, the others of the cohort who were on the email chains are still here but I think this a high-road situation. As a manager, I am going to be making unpopular decisions. I am going to be perceived as getting special treatment when I come in late, leave early, work from home, am off site because, I am not going to explain my comings and goings to my reports. I don’t expect people to apologize for what they considered private conversations or venting.

  8. Jennifer*

    Never send stuff like that over email. I know firsthand how stuff like that can come back to haunt you. I understand the need to vent but go out to lunch or coffee and do it offsite, or do it on your personal phones over text if you’re close enough to have each other’s numbers.

  9. Celeste*

    LW #2, I’ve seen trainees do that maneuver. In my experience it’s because they are feeling very stressed about not understanding the new material, and it’s their way of asserting control over their out of control emotions about not understanding, maybe being about to fail in her job, and other catastrophic feelings. A little reassurance goes a long way. I don’t mean to deny how stressful the interrupting is for you, at all. I think it might help to have a small chat with her about her stress level here, and let her know that so far everyone you’ve trained anywhere has been able to get the hang of it. I think this may help her settle down to listen and learn. Some people do need a little more coaching, and not always just on the subject matter.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think there’s also a point that she’s focusing so much on being defensive.

      It’s been talked about here many times before, that sometimes people think they need to justify WHY they made a mistake, as if they’re being judged for that. (School or parent-child dynamics can create that, because there’s often such a focus on blame–at work it’s less about why and more about “going forward.”)

      That might be another point I’d make: “please don’t distract us both by justifying the mistake; we all make them, and I’m concerned that we should spend our brain time on the RIGHT method. I’m not looking to blame you; I’m interested in having you adopt the new pattern quickly.”

      1. Emmaborina*

        Anyone else consider Dr Evil’s “Zip it” as a last resort when all other attempts have failed?

        1. MassMatt*

          I actually have used the “shush! Shush! I’ve got a whole BAG of shush here!” Routine from Austin Powers. One of the many reasons my team called me “Dr. Evil”. They gave me a desk name plate with that on it once.

          On a more serious note, I feel for the OP as being asked a question and then getting interrupted while I try to answer it drives me nuts. I try to take the high road and explain more or less as Alison does but after a while I have to conclude this person is an idiot, or rude, or just not able to handle feedback, and question whether they are a fit for this job.

  10. StressedButOkay*

    OP5, yeah, that’s incredibly normal for a business to still charge you for the vacation time you’re already on. It seems unfair when everyone else got the afternoon for free but those coworkers ‘took a gamble’ – they had no idea if they would be sent home early and they came all the way into the office for the day. You had a sure thing pre-planned.

    Places that don’t charge you for those pre-booked hours are pretty rare.

    1. Rainbow Roses*

      Yep. I scheduled a day off, and wouldn’t you know, the polar vortex happened. The workplace closed for half a day but I still had to report a full day of vacation, even though the others got paid for four hours they didn’t have to be at work. Oh well.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I made this choice this year. We are open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and the day after Thanksgiving.
      Some years we get out an hour early, sometimes 2. Once 2.5 hours early. A few times in two decades work came in and we couldn’t leave. It’s a gamble. This year I had places to be on Christmas Eve and couldn’t risk it so I had to schedule a half day.

      (We aren’t allowed to carry them over anyway, so I’d have had to burn it that month anyway.)

    3. TootsNYC*

      at most places I’ve worked, it’s also a way to minimize the number of people who take that day off. If everyone only had to spend a half day, more people would take the day off.

      Of course the manager could say, “no, sorry, only X number of people can have that day, and the list is full,” but it’s sort of nice to have other forces that disincentivize the requests so you don’t -have- to say it.

    4. londonedit*

      That’s my experience, too…I’m in the UK, where we generally have slightly more generous holiday allowances, so perhaps that affects people’s view of this sort of thing, but in my experience if you want to have a guaranteed day/afternoon off, then you book the time off in advance. If you do go into the office as usual, yes, you’ll probably be allowed to leave early, but it isn’t guaranteed and it is a bit of a gamble.

      Where I work now, we have to save 3.5 days’ holiday to cover the Christmas shutdown period, where the office is completely closed. That includes the afternoon of Christmas Eve and the working days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. This year, as Christmas Eve was a Monday, they decided to shut the office for the whole day, but not require anyone to use holiday for the morning as well as the afternoon, effectively giving everyone an ‘extra’ half-day’s holiday. That was communicated well in advance, though.

      I also worked for a company where the boss would often come back from lunch on a Friday and say ‘Hey, let’s pack up early and leave at 3’, and where *usually* the day before a holiday weekend he’d let everyone go at lunchtime. But he wouldn’t communicate this until the day itself, so people were left wondering whether they would be allowed to leave at 1pm, or whether they’d have to stay until 5.30. Often people would have booked train tickets for 7pm and would then be at a loose end for the whole afternoon. Eventually someone pointed out to the boss that while it was lovely to be able to leave early, it did make planning things difficult, so he made it an unofficial rule that we could always leave at lunchtime the day before a holiday, and he also decided that we’d always finish at 4pm on a Friday, rather than having the occasional random ‘let’s pack up now!’. In many ways it was actually a pretty terrible place to work, but that bit was quite good!

    5. Octopus*

      But depending on how it works in the LW’s office it might not be a gamble. If the company policy is that they close at 3pm instead of 5pm the day before a holiday, then that’s on the calendar and people would know in advance. That’s what I’m used to so I was reading that question as “everyone else can plan on only working 6 hours, but I have to take 8 hours of vacation if I take the day off” rather than “I found out that the office closed 2 hours early on a day I was on vacation so why do I still have to use 8 hours of my PTO?”

  11. krysb*

    It may be because I work in e-discovery, but I live by the axiom “Say it, forget it, write it, regret it.”

    1. RNL*

      LOL, right?
      As a lawyer who has read MANY people’s emails, this lesson is now burned into my memory, as I’m sure it is now burned into OP1’s.
      (BTW, working with our e-discovery team to filter out the porn spam on a massive investment fraud case was a true career low-light. SO MANY GROSS SEARCH TERMS.)

  12. Rainbow Roses*

    Back when email was shiny and new, we all went wild. I shudder to think of the few bad mouthing we sent each other through work emails back then. I don’t think we were ever caught but I’ve learned to never sent anything that I don’t want the world to see through work email. One fumble of the finger and it could be sent to the wrong person!

    But in this case of the ship already sailed, don’t say anything and hope for the best. I’m sure the coworker sent and received thousands of emails and the complaints may be hidden too deep to notice.

    1. Marvelous Mrs. Manager*

      I have made a lot of bad uses of work email. Namely, a lot of fights with my ex-husband during the waning days of our divorce (while we were separated) occurred over work email because that’s how he controlled me (he knew I had to be reading my work emails). I now know that I could have blocked his emails, refused to engage, so on and so forth – but I was stuck in a bad pattern with him. It wasn’t about coworkers or superiors, but still would be very embarrassing if anyone else read them. My company has de-facto access to all emails, regardless of if you have left or not. Typically, IT will give the manager access to the departed employees email, but it is for archival purposes only and rarely would we need to go back and look through any emails (what manager that just lost an employee has time to do that?). I’d follow Alison’s advice and just sit tight and see what happens.

  13. Annette*

    None of my comments will go through all day. LW may never see this but I have to say it – forgive yourself and move on. Don’t do it again but don’t fixate on the past. That’s my advice for every part of life. Work, play, all in between.

    1. fposte*

      FYI, there are three comments from you on this post, so they seem to be coming through okay–either they were briefly stuck in moderation or your browser was reloading from the cache.

  14. irene adler*

    What makes the OP think their emails re: the manager haven’t been passed to this manager a long time ago?

    Depending on the company rules, IT folks review- or at least have access to- all employee emails. Now, whether IT folks actually took the time and trouble to read the emails bad-mouthing the manager, can’t say. But if IT had read them, they could have easily forwarded them to the manager back when they were written.

    Always assume everyone can -and does- read your work emails.

    1. Observer*

      It’s actually quite uncommon for IT folks to routinely review emails, especially ones between employees. It’s just a very poor use of resources. So unless either the OP or the former coworker were even peripherally involved in some sort of significant problem that IT was involved in investigating, it’s really unlikely that IT has actually seen and passed on these emails.

      That said, all the rules about not putting into email anything you don’t want your boss to see are TOTALLY on target.

        1. Observer*

          That’s doesn’t make it a common practice.

          As I said, it is NOT a common practice because in most cases it’s just a really bad use of resources. I don’t know whether your boss is just a bad manager or there are exceptional circumstances at play, but he’s not really typical.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            But most of them flag specific keywords. For example, my office just fired someone for gossiping about a confidential project over email. They caught him through a keyword scan.

            1. Observer*

              That’s a very different thing. Data Loss Prevention is a thing that can be extremely important to companies. But the most successful programs are designed for minimal human intervention. Rather, they do stuff like scan for keyword and other conditions, only flag those things for review.

              Of course, it does speak to the reality that you just CANNOT count on no one ever seeing your email. (And if you really must gossip over email, use some sense. Don’t use terms that a DLP system or your boss might reasonably use if they had a reasonable reason to look.)

          2. Totally Minnie*

            This. My org pulls 10 random emails from randomly selected employees twice a year, so it’s possible that one of those could catch something inappropriate, but with 200 employees sending multiple emails every day, it’s not likely. My friend in the IT department tells me that you’re much more likely to get caught for inappropriate emails if you’re already under investigation for something else.

            1. Observer*

              That’s so true. The other thing that puts you at risk is if you are corresponding with someone who is under investigation, because that correspondence is likely to be looked at.

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I had a boss who liked to review emails using her God Power or whatever IT gave her to the email system.

          She would use it to Thought Police people who weren’t 100% On Board. Let’s say Boss had written a rule saying that teapot painters had to wear business suits while painting teapots just in case a customer came in, and one of my staff wrote back, “Business suits? While painting? Why can’t we wear our smocks, our suits will get ruined. Especially on days we’re spray painting!” and I said, “I understand and share your concerns, but going forward, teapot painters will be required to wear business suits in the painting studio. This is a company-wide rule so unfortunately I have no latitude in changing it.”

          That would get me in trouble with her, for dissenting. Also, she expected roses and designer handbags on her birthday, and if you didn’t cough up the gift you were in trouble.

    2. Not Me*

      I agree with Observer, that’s very uncommon and and odd practice. Most Fortune 500 companies have procedures and policies in place that would require multiple approvals for someone to access an others email. Generally IT would make the email account available to HR or a manager for investigative purposes but not for a regular review.

  15. Linda Evangelista*

    OP5, Its super normal, but I think its kind of crummy. We’ll often get advance notice of pre-holiday half days, but anyone who takes vacation still has to take a full day. Its normal, but it would certainly be a *nice* morale boost if it wasn’t.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      That’s crappy. We honestly don’t find out until that day. And at most it was 2.5 hours. Typically it’s one and it’s never guaranteed. You company is crappy if they are hosing you out of half a day!

  16. INeedANap*

    OP #4, I would also implement a policy of not updating those who have referred someone in general. Even if you refer someone, their application status is none of your business.

    Could you respond, “Sorry, for privacy reasons we only provide application or status updates to the applicant themselves. We appreciate you referring this applicant, but we cannot give you any information. Please do not ask for updates on applicants’ materials.”

    I realize it’s a little late for this – you already HAVE given updates – but in the future this will pre-empt a similar problem.

    For this circumstance, I think you should be more direct than Alison suggests. “I appreciated the referral, but Jane isn’t the right match with any of our current openings. I’ve sent her a rejection email to let her know. We’re no longer providing updates to anyone but the applicant, so in the future please do not send requests for information.”

    Or something like that, anyways.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think that only works if the company is actually telling people their application status. I totally understand if an employee passes along a resume of someone in their network and the person never hears anything back, why they would ask the person to check in. Like, are they just not interviewing anyone yet, have they decided to pass on that candidate, etc. Companies are so secretive about these things that I think its ok for someone there to ask.

      Now of course this does depend on the size of the company. But as long as companies are actively asking their employees to refer people, they need to make a committment to actually be in touch with those referrals.

  17. Dorothy Zbornak*

    A few jobs ago, during my notice period, I spent a big chunk of time deleting old emails and IM chains with a coworker that said not-nice things about our bosses. I know nothing is REALLY permanently deleted, but I wanted to at least clear my inbox in case someone did need to go digging through my inbox for something…

    Now I keep all of that to my personal email and phone!

  18. Observer*

    OP #1’s issue highlights the old rule about not putting anything email that you don’t want to be made public. This goes multiple times over for work email. Because not only does IT generally have access to all email other people are routinely given access to people’s email accounts. Combined with how easy it is to forward stuff, an email you wrote to co-worker A could wind up being accessible to all sorts of people who you would never expect. And if that person has any reason to go digging for anything the chances of your email being found go up.

    Best idea is to keep venting out of work. But if you have to do it within the workplace, do it verbally.

  19. Candy Clouston*

    Re: The Interrupting Trainee

    She’s communicating that the approach the trainer is taking doesn’t work for her. If she stops interrupting, she’s still not going to learn the way she’s being taught. That’s not to say the trainer hasn’t logically organized her own thoughts, only that there’s a serious mismatch between how the trainer assumes people process information and the way the trainee actually does process it. Giving the trainee more control (e.g., asking more questions about her process) might improve the situation, even though it’s difficult to deviate from an approach that seems to make the most sense.

    1. Someone Else*

      I disagree. The letter says she asks a question and interrupts before the answer is given. Now maybe, if it were a particularly long-winded answer…ok then you may be onto something. But the letter read to me more like the trainer barely got a word out before some other interruption -an interruption not on the subject of the question just asked- so the trainee is torpedoing any attempt at getting the answer she literally asked for a moment earlier. That sounds to me like the trainee isn’t really paying attention if she’s changing the subject that quickly.

    2. Observer*

      Is that why she also keeps on insisting that what she did was correct instead of listening to the OP?

    3. LiptonTea4Me*

      I work in a call center where this happens as well. They inform you of the problem and then you get to say two words and they interrupt you, and two more words and the same thing. That is when I literally stop talking. When they ask if I am still there, then I tell them that neither of us can hear the other if we are both talking at the same time. If the interrupting persists, then I ask them to let me know when they are ready to listen and I don’t say another word.
      It is disrespectful to the person trying to help you if you cannot even listen before jumping to the questions. All it tells me is that you value your own thoughts on the issue more than the person who is trying to assist you. Your trainee needs to hear this: Listen to understand, not to reply.

  20. Jessica*

    I had a report who missed a lot of Mondays with totally legit issues, and I wish I could get others to understand that for any other weekday, you’ve had maybe 3 hours of your own time the evening before. But for Monday, you’ve had 2.5 days. Got food allergies? There’s 1 meal between Thursday work and Friday work, but between Friday work and Monday work there are 7 opportunities to accidentally poison yourself. Likewise, if you hurt yourself doing something sportsy, there’s more chance you’d be doing it on the weekend. And just the longer stretch of time is a longer opportunity to start coming down with something. There are just so many wholly reasonable reasons that sick days might happen a little more often on a Monday, that don’t involve any kind of dishonesty.

    1. Lonely Aussie*

      I have Tuesdays off as what is often my only day off for the week. My workplace treats any time off with suspicion and there’s a real attitude of dragging oneself in dying. so it’s like can’t take Monday because it looks like I’m trying to get a longer “weekend”, ditto Wednesday, Friday is out because it looks sus to the people who having a weekend off. Weekends run on skeleton crews so calling in those days will get you shunned. Leaving Thursday as the only socially acceptable day, except that, it’s our busiest day with the worst job so….
      I really wish attitudes would change here. But they run on minimum staff so anyone’s absence is going to be missed.

  21. Essess*

    Once the employee passes the referral on to the HR person, that employee has NO business being involved in the interview process and they need to respect professional boundaries. By constantly nagging to get the person an interview, it shows that they are too emotionally involved in the employment matters of the potential employee. If the potential employee was hired, I wouldn’t trust the current employee to respect professional boundaries after hiring either (such as training, discipline, performance evaluations, etc…). I would let the current employee know that if they continue to ignore professional boundaries, then the person will not be considered for future positions.

  22. Dasein9*

    LW, you’re getting some excellent advice here.

    I would also add this: make sure there is a drastic and real change in how you use work email. If your past messages are brought up, it will be a big help to have already begun to establish a correction for the error. A sincere apology and promise to continue doing better can go a long way.

  23. HarveyW*

    Hey! That first one described by grandboss to a tee! Has every excuse in the world not to come in and when he does, he doesn’t seem to do much. PITA.

  24. MommyMD*

    Lesson learned. e-mail at work is NEVER private. Assume it will be read by managers. There’s nothing you can do at this point.

  25. Anoncorporate*

    If the OP was just griping and they don’t report to this manager, could they still get in trouble? I know it’s awkward, but it seems like the griping was about the manager’s incompetence, which they have every incentive to keep under wraps. Am I missing something here?

    1. Observer*

      Yes, they culd get into trouble, even if the manager is incompetent. And especially if it turns out that the manager in question is not as incompetent as the OP thinks.

  26. Liz*

    OP1, a lot of companies ask managers if they want access to this info, but they don’t actually use it. If this manager is checked out or lazy as you indicated, they probably aren’t investing the time to snoop through their former employee’s emails. If they do, I agree that it’s likely they’ll be embarrassed and not want to draw attention to their behavior.

    A wise manager once told me: “employee inboxes are Pandora’s box. You don’t want to touch them because once you do, you’ll probably have to fire half your staff.” Having spent a minute looking through emails of a couple former employees, I totally agree with that manager’s assessment! I no longer look at emails and stick to project files and documents instead. Sometimes I still uncover disappointing things in those files, too, but it’s to be expected that someone who’s on their way out the door probably had a moment or two of “F this job” before leaving, so I don’t even bat an eye anymore. There are way worse things we see as leaders!

  27. Didi*

    OP#1, you can count on someone reading these emails. But I wouldn’t worry about it as long as your comments were more of the “X is such a pain” type and not offensive – sexist, racist, or otherwise inflammatory, threatening or bigoted.

    As a manager who gets access to people’s emails when they leave the company, I used to feel I shouldn’t look unless I had a good reason to. But then I had an employee who left a bunch of work undone and not filed in shared drives when she left, and I had to go through the email to find whatever I could so someone else could finish the job. I found something that was incredibly concerning and I had to take action.

    Now I always look. 99% of the emails are work-related. I also sometimes find some grousing about work, criticism of me, colleagues and other managers. I actually learned a few things about other employees, colleagues and my own management style that helped me change and grow as a manager. That’s all normal stuff. I think a reasonable manager would also see it that way. Of course, some people are not reasonable.

  28. CJ*

    It boggles my mind that anybody would diss their employer or another employee using their work email. Good grief, people. If you do this you get what you deserve.

    1. Liz*

      That’s a little unfair. Everyone goes through periods of professional growth and stages of professional maturity, and most of us learn and grow from moments just like this. The OP here has clearly learned an important lesson. Wishing ill will on people doesn’t help them learn and grow from their mistakes.

  29. CJ*

    For the vacation question, it depends on if the office plans ahead of time to close and notifies their employees. If so, they shouldn’t be charged the full 8 hours.

    If instead it’s a matter of “things are slow and we could all use a break so let’s close up” the day of, then it’s fair to be charged the full day.

  30. MCMonkeyBean*

    I don’t understand how anything could be more clear than what OP 4 said they already told their friend: “I’ve told them each time that the referral is not qualified for the position and I am not planning to call”

Comments are closed.