“We recently implemented an email system that allows staff to send large group emails at the touch of a button. However, not everyone has grown used to the pitfalls – which became apparent when a sarcastic comment from an employee about next year’s modest pay rises was sent to everyone in the firm. We don’t want to appear heavy-handed when the atmosphere is gloomy. But what should we do?”
Ben Williams, barrister at Kings Chambers, says:
Although this was probably nothing more than a throwaway comment, you need to ensure it doesn’t fester and become serious. But unless you have a clear policy for dealing with this type of thing, I would discourage the use of formal disciplinary processes. Instead, an informal word of discouragement should be enough – especially as your email system is new. For the future, however, there are steps you can take to make sure both you and your staff understand the repercussions of a repeat blunder. First, set clear boundaries for employees so that problems like this do not undermine trust, confidence or morale at work. The best way to do this is by adopting a policy on the acceptable use of workplace emails. This could cover private and work-related correspondence, whether sent from a computer or mobile device. The policy would include a clear statement of an employee’s accountability in respect of workplace communications; examples of what is unacceptable; a clear indication that a breach of the policy could result in disciplinary sanction; and an indication as to why, how and when emails will be monitored by you. Second, you might want to adopt robust monitoring procedures, although this would need to be proportionate. Any new policies and procedures need to be communicated to all staff and managers so that they understand why you are doing it. Furthermore, employees should feel able to bring concerns to you in a proper way, and should be discouraged from doing so through global emails or social media.
This article first appeared in the Financial Times on 12th February 2014: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/89e3f510-8365-11e3-aa65-00144feab7de,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F89e3f510-8365-11e3-aa65-00144feab7de.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&siteedition=uk&_i_referer=#axzz2u9e
Winckworth Sherwood in conversation with Kings Chambers
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