Gig tip: IM, email, beware…

Usually your first day on the job they hand you a huge binder or send you to an internal website to read the “employee manual”. Ultimately there is something in there about the use of email and transmittal of information; companies want to keep their secret sauce secret… and also want their employees not to abuse email, instant messaging, and others to the detriment of productivity.

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I used to think that this was really just a crock of bull. Who really monitors these things anyway? It’s so easy to whip out an email and send it off without thinking. But two things in particular during my career happened that will forever change the way I think about what I write on the job and the means and mechanisms of how this content is transmitted.

1. My company does litigation support work. Essentially, law firms at times can hire individuals or companies to serve as “expert witnesses” to provide opinions on facts in a case. There was one such case that my company was involved with – a big one. What does this work entail? Pouring through boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of emails and supporting documents (most of them duplicates), to see if there was ANYTHING ever put in writing by particular individuals that would help shape our opinion on the situation. If ever subpoenaed, your company’s IT department can likely and quite easily pull email records from any individual from any period of time.

2. A friend of mine was Instant Messaging and bantering back and forth with colleagues about anything and everything. This was actually a pretty funny guy and I can just imagine the sense of humor and wit he used with these IMs. Well, apparently there was an HR situation where it became necessary to pull his IM messages and the contents were enough to have him fired on the spot. That’s it. It didn’t matter that he had worked for this organization for 8+ years. Done. Immediately. Give us your employee badge and we’ll walk you to the door, thank you very much.

So, use caution when you put anything in writing on the job. Use common sense. If you get upset and write an email in the heat of anger, just save the message and get back to it when you calm down. These communications are like like writing in stone – there is forever an imprint and trail. It cannot be erased. It can be retrieved.

I like to teach my kids to “use good judgment”. Here is definitely an area where we as professionals also need to use good judgment. Email communication can be difficult. Things can be interpreted incorrectly and messages written in stressful moments can be dangerous. The ease, speed, and permanence of such communications make emails, IM, and other social media potentially dangerous in the work environment.

Does anyone have any thoughts to share?

– Mama K

p.s., again, these kinds of posts are a “test” (I have no kids tonight) so let me know if this stuff is useful or not…


  1. I like it. It’s a good reminder, even with personal emails. You never know where an email might get forwarded, and rapidly!

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