While the sorry case of Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana — who, as of this writing, has not yet resigned, though the calls for that action are stacking up deeper than a Montana blizzard snowbank — is fresh in mind, it’s a good idea to review your organization’s — and your personal — email and internet usage policy.
First, in case you haven’t read the papers in the last 24 hours, a thumbnail overview of the Cebull brouhaha: Judge Cebull, appointed to the federal bench in 2001 and chief judge of the district of Montana since 2008, received a “joke” in an email from his brother that suggested that President Obama was conceived as the result of his late mother being involved in group sex that included animals.
Naturally, the judge decided to share this delightful bit of wit with his friends, so he sent the email to seven individuals he has described as “old buddies.” He included his name in the email. His “old buddies” then apparently proceeded to forward the email — complete with his signature — to just about everyone in Montana governance and politics with an email address.
Suffice it to say, the judge — who has apologized “if people were offended” [we'll have an upcoming article on crafting effective and credible apologies at some future date] – will be unlikely to be able to dig himself out of the avalanche of calls for his resignation — but if he does, he will surely go down in history with a particularly ugly cloud over what was apparently once a “good name.”
We’ll leave Judge Cebull to the historians for now, but this is an excellent time to review your organization’s — and your own, personal — email and social media policies.
Formulating an Acceptable Internet Usage Policy tailored to the specific needs of your company is something you should pursue carefully, but here are some considerations and recommendations:
Why does my organization need an AIUP?
Studies suggest that as much as 30 to 40% of workplace internet use is not work related. Another study has provided evidence that 70% of internet porn viewing occurs during typical business hours. Another study has suggested that over 35% of employees admit to surfing the web for entertainment continually while at work. Unauthorized, non-business-related internet use costs American business over 1 billion dollars a year. And, of course, cases like that of Judge Cebull demonstrate the dangers of unmonitored or out-of-policy email use.
Basic guidelines for formulating an effective AIUP
Acceptable uses for organization email and intenet resources:
- Communication with fellow employees, business partners, and clients appropriately based on an individual’s assigned responsibilities.
- Gathering or sharing information related to the performance of an individual’s responsibilities.
- Participating in professional development activities. Depending on your organization’s situation and requirements, this may be extended to educational activities related to professional performance.
Allowing other uses of your orgnaization’s email, social media, and other internet resources should be carefully weighed.
For instance, as a manager, you may wish to allow your employees brief use of your organization’s internet facilities for limited private communication — much as one might permit a limited amount of personal telephone use.
But under no circumstances should you consider allowing the use of company email for strictly personal communications. Employees should be encouraged to use their own email accounts accessible via web browser (such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and other web email services) for such limited, personal use during company hours.
And, of course, the content of those business — and personal — emails, as well as social media communications, should be carefully considered, as well. Written communications, as we all know, do not include the many non-verbal communication ‘hints’ that help avoid misunderstanding in face to face or telephonic communication. Without tone of voice and body language, a phrase or sentence that may strike the writer as utterly innocuous can, all too often, be misconstrued as having veiled meanings or references. It’s all too easy for a very small mis-communication to snowball into a very large problem — and large problems can have expensive or simply time-wasting consequences.
Adding to the potential for mis-communication are the frenzied work styles of many harried workers and executives. A simple typographical error, when missed by careless or nonexistent proofreading, can lead to serious misunderstandings. Leave out the word not in the wrong place, and you could blow a mulit-million dollar business deal.
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.