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 most people think. Yes, Big Brother is active – scanning and digging for dirt on employees.
If you have dirty little secrets and you think you can hide them on your work devices, think again.
Management will discover them.
Men are particularly bad about using company computers and cell phones to hide their secrets.
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 were loaded.
Many people don’t think about it but when you get a company cell phone, the number was used before by another employee. At one company I was given a used phone number and 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 the former employee was having an affair with this woman. When he came back to work for the company and found out that I had his old phone number, he was embarrassed!
Companies routinely monitor cell phone bills 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 with an employee. 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.
I learned when I got my first work computer in the mid 80’s to befriend the system administrators. I thought it was always pretty amazing what they could do from behind the scenes. While it used to be difficult and expensive to have monitoring programs, today, any company can shadow your computer any time without you even knowing it. If your computer is on, it can be monitored. Even away from the office.
Don’t ever think you can hide how you are using your 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 monitoring you. Outlook tends to get 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.
All of this is important because managers use work 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 find dirt to document or substantiate their claims against an employee, then the computer is an excellent place to start.
After hearing that, I made sure I never put anything personal on my work computer and I bought a personal cell phone.
I’ve carried a work cell phone and a personal cell phone for years. I keep them very separate and distinct. 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 replaced the need to carry a separate personal computer.
Also keep your work devices 100% professional. Don’t send snarky texts or emails. If you aren’t willing to stand up and make the comment verbally, then don’t send it.
My objective was very simple: I made sure that anyone who went through my work computer or cell phone only saw work. Dull, boring, professional work.
Always 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.
And don’t think deleting is a safe guard either. 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 will get dragged into the workplace and cause problems. It will not reflect well on you.
Unless you build the barriers and the separation, personal issues and drama have a way of seeping into the workplace. There are a lot of people, including (male) managers who are titillated by drama. 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 their source. You will be used and pay the price.
I used to think that I took a pretty extreme position on this issue but as I went 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 and separation between personal and professional.
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. I know my strict policy has save me a lot of problems especially as I am breaking the glass ceiling and walking through the door of the All Boy’s Club.
Bottom line: Don’t Trust and Protect yourself.
Empowered women are always vigilant.