I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet because out of all the topics I can think of, this is the topic I deal with the most – people using company cell phones, computers, office, desks and file cabinets as if they are their own personal property.
I think I kept pushing it off because I kept thinking that people have learned to keep personal and professional separate. But they haven’t.
Years ago, my employees believed that our company couldn’t look into phone records, computer usage or even go into an office or cubicle without their consent. I had to inform them “Sorry, it is all company property and the company can and will go through it whenever they want.”
Management goes through computer usage, emails and phone records more often than people think. Yes, Big Brother is active in the male-dominated workplace – scanning and digging. If you have dirty little secrets, management will discover them.
Men are particularly bad about using company computers and cell phones to hide their personal secret lives from their families.
I got a phone call from the accounting department about a few employees cell phone data usage. According to the cell phone carrier, the data could only be explained by downloading movies. That didn’t make sense. I knew these guys are working and not watching movies all day. Why would they download movies on their cell phone to watch at home?
Call me naïve!
When one of the guys quit, his cell phone sat on my desk for a few days. Alerts kept going off. There was a long string of text messages with a link to a porn site as new little videos are loaded.
Most of the time when you get a company cell phone, the number has been used before by another employee. At one company where I was given the phone, I started getting weird texts from a woman. At first I thought she was texting the wrong number. Then she got angry because I didn’t reply. It took me a couple of days to figure out that my predecessor was having an affair with this woman who also happened to be the wife of a close relative of other employees. When my predecessor came back to work for the company, and found out that I had his old phone number, it was awkward to say the least!
Your company may know a lot more about you than you think. Companies monitor their cell phone bill and look for employees who go through a lot of minutes. If there are excess minutes, the company requests the detailed bill with all the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls. Then it is just a matter of dialing the unrecognized numbers. Management finds out who is going through a bankruptcy, collections and has legal problems.
Generally I don’t dig into computer usage unless there is a performance issue. If an employee minimized their screen every time I walk or stop by, you bet I am going to look into it. I want to know what they are doing instead of working.
Since I got my first computer in the mid 80’s I learned to befriend the system administrators. I thought it was always pretty amazing what they can do from behind the scenes. It used to be difficult and expensive to have the monitoring programs but today, any company can shadow your computer any time without you even knowing it. If the computer is on, it can be monitored.
Don’t ever think you can hide how you are spending your time on the company computer!
And don’t think any of your emails are private. Your email account can be loaded onto anyone else’s computer and they have full access. They can even send emails from your account.
The good news is you can catch on when someone is doing this to you because Outlook gets a little glitchy especially if you keep thousands of emails in your inbox. So if you’re having problems with your email and no one else is, don’t be surprised if it is being monitored. This goes on a lot more than people think!
All of this is important because sometimes managers use our computers and cell phones to look for dirt on employees. That is how I got turned onto this whole issue – I overheard managers talking about how they were going through an employee’s email and phone records to see what they could find because they were mad at him. Management knows that if they want to document or substantiate performance issues, then the computer is a good place to start.
After hearing that, I went out and bought a personal cell phone.
I’ve carried two cell phones for years. I don’t give out my work cell phone number to friends and I don’t give out my personal cell phone number to work colleagues. With the exception of my daughters’ phone numbers under ICE I don’t keep any personal phone numbers on my work phone. I don’t load apps for games, social media or my bank. I don’t load my personal email accounts. I make it so anyone who goes through my work cell phone, learns very little about my personal life.
I treat my work computer the same way. I don’t load my personal email account into Outlook or even access through the internet. I minimize the use of my work computer for anything personal. Years ago if I was going on an extended business trip I used to carry my personal computer too. Fortunately smart phones, iPads and thumb drives have have replace the personal computer.
My objective was for anyone going through my work computer to see only work. I want it to look like I don’t have a personal life at all.
It is important to remember that after you leave your company your phone and computer will be reused. But before it is everything on your computer will be loaded onto another system or backup drive so others can access it. Don’t be like the guy who used his work computer as his personal computer while going through a messy divorce. He kept all of his personal documents on the computer and used his work email to correspond with his attorney. Every detail of his divorce and personal finances got scattered throughout the company systems.
Deleting isn’t a safe guard either. If it looks like someone tried to wipe their computer clean, it can all be easily restored.
I extend the separation of professional and personal to Linkedin and Facebook respectively. I am connected with only a few former co-workers on Facebook. I don’t recommend you connect with current co-workers on Facebook – actually let me rephrase that – as a manager I implore you not to connect with your co-workers on Facebook. Personal issues and drama don’t need to be dragged into the workplace and mixed in with work. It will not reflect well on you.
And that is my main point. Unless you build the barriers, personal issues and especially drama have a way of seeping into the workplace. There are a lot of people, including managers who are titillated by drama and if you leave the door open, even a crack they will walk right through it. Even worse, there are a lot of managers who get off on creating drama as a way to sidetrack people from their own poor management issues. Don’t be a source of information for them. You will be used.
I used to think that I took a pretty extreme position on this issue but as I have gone higher in the management ranks my conviction to the absolute separation of personal and professional has only increased. If you value your career and plan on moving up, you have to consciously build barriers between personal and professional. I picture them as two separate rooms with a locked door in between that I control. I decide who I trust enough from my work life to invite into my personal life. In this super connected world, people are always looking for access to places they don’t belong and for an advantage they can use to advance themselves. Protect yourself.
Empowered women are always vigilant.