HR must take the lead to stop e-mail abuse

Research by an Internet security firm, Peapod, confirms the worst suspicions
of many employers about staff abuse of Internet systems. Data from an audit of
e-mails at 40 large companies shows that six out of 10 sent by employees are
not about company business. This finding suggests companies are spending
millions paying for the private correspondence of staff, and on top of that
there are big questions about employee productivity.

The concern doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Despite widespread publicity
surrounding high-profile sackings of staff for sending pornographic material by
e-mail, a significant percentage of staff are still doing this – and using
dubious means to avoid detection. There are also a worrying number of e-mails
containing racially or sexually discriminatory material, and of messages that
disclose confidential company business.

If these findings are representative of employers as a whole, there are
serious HR problems to address when it comes to e-mail. One of the causes is
that when organisations suspect they have a problem, they treat it as an IT
issue and look for technological solutions without involving HR. This is a big
mistake as it is HR managers who have the knowledge about how employers could
be breaching employment law. And it is often the HR specialist who is best
placed to advise on the complex tangle of regulations surrounding data used on
business systems.

Preventing e-mail abuse is not simply about the knee-jerk reaction of
monitoring staff e-mails. In people management terms monitoring often amounts
to locking the door after the horse has bolted.

It is crucial HR plays a central part in combating e-mail abuse. HR should
play the leading part in drawing up an e-mail policy and ensuring this is communicated
effectively to staff. HR should also lead in how to prevent abuse.

By Noel O’Reilly

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