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Thursday, June 4, 2009

boss forces coworkers to all share an email account (really)

A reader writes:

Four of us share a gmail address at our small nonprofit. We all work remotely and meet face to face once a month. We label individual mail by name with the gmail folder system. The director encourages staff to read each other's gmail.

The rationale for this system is that as we work remotely it allows us to keep abreast of each other's business. As you may have surmised, the director is the only one who reads all emails and comments not only on pending work, but timeliness, and content of employee correspondence.

The staff would prefer individual email, but are unable to get around this impasse.

This is the one of the weirder practices I've ever heard of. Really?

Your manager is all of the following: a control freak, an ass, a snoop, and a bad manager.

And he needs to learn more appropriate ways of overseeing work so that he doesn't have to rummage around in people's email. I would bet a substantial amount of money that this isn't the only way in which he's managing poorly; you don't do something like this if you're managing effectively in other areas.

Of course, it's often very difficult to deal with an ass when he's in charge of you. I suggest that you and your coworkers talk to him as a group and tell him that the current system is inefficient for all of you and that you're going to set up individual email accounts like the rest of the world.

There are plenty of other ways for you to "stay abreast of each other's work." Set up some shared Google documents or something. You can't work effectively when someone is micromanaging every aspect of your communications with others.

Now, will he go for it? Maybe not. But your best bet is to approach him as a group and frame it as something that's impeding your effectiveness and efficiency.

Screw this guy though. I hate him, just from your seven sentences.


Suzanne Lucas said...

You lack opinions the same way I do. :>)

Totally agree. That practice is whack-a-whack-whacked.

I used to have access to all my employees' e-mail accounts, but they also had access to mine. We did it so that if someone had an emergency day out of the office we could cover. I don't recall ever using my access for anything else. I mean, who has time to read other people's e-mail?

I presume my employees didn't read through my stuff on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

As much as I agree that everyone should have individual mail boxes, as a manager I often find that staff who know that their mail is not monitored in any way, tend to use company e-mail address to set up accounts on shopping sites, networking sites and other. It happens ever so often that, once an employee has left and someone else gets to check their account (for business-related messages), upto 90% of all incoming mail is spam...

So, hey, maybe that's a solution, even though I would never do that to any of 'my people'.

Kerry Scott said...


I thought I had heard everything. I guess not.

I bet that in real life, this guy is one of those controlling boyfriends who goes through your caller ID.


Anonymous said...

Anon, my former employer's filter was very strong and spam did not get through. Not even emails from my mother would get through sometimes.

But even if spam did get through -- isn't your real issue whether or not the employee is getting her work done? Even if she used her hotmail account to shop online during work, would it matter if she was doing her work?

If you really don't want people to use work email for personal stuff, just make that a policy and direct them to hotmail.

Charles said...

I think AAM hit the nail on the head - this boss is a total control freak, etc. (BTW - is this Director really a "he"?). In my opinion there is no other explanation.

Anonymous - EVERY company that I have worked for has policies that company-sponsored email accounts and internet access are for business-related issues only. There are better ways to monitor this than by making everyone use the same email. Most IT Departments can, with management approval, monitor every employee's internet and email usage. If mis-use of these resources is a problem at an organization management can work with IT to solve it.

Class-Factotum - No, this issue is more than whether or not employees are getting their work done. Email and internet access are company resources; the more people email and access the internet the more the organization has to invest in those resources (i.e., buying another email or web server to handle the extra load).

Even if staff are getting their work done, they still should not assume that it is okay (whether or not there is a policy against it) to be sending personal email or surfing the web for personal delight.

If one has finished his/her work so much that there is time to surf the web or send personal email, how about looking around to see if any one else needs an extra hand with work instead of kicking up one's heels? That would be the professional thing to do.

So, it is both a professional and financial issue as far as I am concerned.

But, back to AAM's suggestions. I would also have this group suggest that the manager can require these four telecommuters to CC or BCC each other and the "boss" when sending email.

P.S. this Director sounds like the one boss I had who brought in a crow bar to pry open a locked desk draw of an employee who was out on vacation - now that's a snoop!

Jason Seiden said...

Strange as it might sound, I'm of the opinion that we don't have nearly enough info to come to that strong of a conclusion about the practice... And certainly not enough to start labeling the boss like that!

The employee's failure to change the policy likely has less to do with the boss being an ass as it does the employee's failure to articulate an appreciation for, and alternative path to meet, the boss' needs.

Blame is easy. Problem solving is not.

Anonymous said...

Lets all rush to judgement, shall we? Perhaps the manager in question is technologically illiterate & is unaware of other collaboration tools. He might just need to be shown some software. Of course, if he is just doing it to be a controlling snoop, then that is just rude. If the manager won't budge, couldn't the poster set up a free account at yahoo or elsewhere for more private communication?

Gene said...

Ummm, it's gmail. All it takes to set up a new account is an active email account; you don't need anyone's permission (unlike a corporate mail server.)

My suggestion is for all four to set up their own gmail acounts and start including those accounts int he email to field. Over time the only one reading the shared account will be the director.

Anonymous said...

Charles, are people never to make personal phone calls from work then? Never to call the doctor to make an appointment because the doctor's office is open only when one is at work?

Some things cannot be done from home if one works normal business hours because the very people one needs to deal with also keep only normal business hours. If someone is getting her work done well and on time, then what do I care if she does a little online shopping from 3:11 to 3:17?

In my old job, it would not have worked for me to offer to help a co-worker because we all worked on very different things. They couldn't do my work and I couldn't do theirs. I was responsible for my work and I got it done.

With respect to this letter, it sounds like the boss is using email as a way to monitor the work his subordinates are doing. This is lazy and has nothing to do with server capacity.

Amy said...

I agree with Jason. There's probably more to the story that we don't know about. It's very common in the health care field to have group email.

Anonymous said...

surf the web and log into your personal email account on your own time not on the company time clock....its very simple.

Robert L. said...

I had a boss that did this. Back in 1996. We had 1 computer in the whole organization that was hooked up to this thing called The Internet. And thus, 1 e-mail address for the entire organization. Non-profit was not just a tax status for those guys.

mamamay said...

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. This is not an issue of how we spend our time at work Anon, it is all about a founder ( now Exec Director) of our NP letting go.
We started 6 years ago and I am one of the first PT staff members. The fact that we have gmail, and a website is a HUGE deal.
Jason is correct, it is easy to blame. The boss doesn't know how to ask for the type of reports needed to keep up with our business, having employees is brand new. I am trying to be constructive, "Gee thats what staff meetings are for", or "reading others email, and sometimes answering them..., is an inefficient waste of time", but it hasn't gotten through. I even tried "STOP reading my email", now what?
A member of our Bd of Directors was asked by the exec if reading aka sharing email was a good practice, he said YES!!!

A Girl Named Me said...

I'm a little late here, but felt the need to jump in.

My take on this is a little different from what seems to be the general consensus here.

It's a small non-profit with what looks like four staff members. They are using a GMail account - meaning that for whatever reason they don't have their own email service connected to their own domain.

If they were to set up other personal email accounts to use for the organization, the director would have no way to control those personal accounts and if someone left the organization, those email addresses would be out there as related to the organization and the former employee could be(come) a loose cannon. Let the bad times begin.

The real solution here seems to be for the organization to get their own domain and pay for several email addresses. This takes care of the control issue - employees would never be able to take the address with them when they leave.

What is most surprising here is that people seem to think that there is some degree of privacy in the workplace concerning emails and there simply is not. Your employer can read any of your office emails whenever she wants.

Most employers won't tell you when this is happening. At least in this situation, you know what's what.

TheLabRat said...

This is such an easy fix to address because as Gene said, email. And A girl named me's comment can be addressed as well. Each of you set up professional email accounts. You go into the shared account and tell it to forward all of those accounts. Email out to clients or what have you can only be sent from the shared account. Now you can all manage your individual works loads more cleanly and boss man doesn't have the potential problem that Girl..Me details.

sara said...

I manage two non-profits, and the way the"info@" email where all our members, attendees and board can email. It goes to one central place. 4 of us have access, 2 are responsible for replying. Typically these emails are regarding membership status, event payment, and RSVP. It works well.

That being said, we all have our own personal emails. Perhaps suggest a similar set-up to your Ex. Director so that they know the incoming messages are being responded to, but that each of you have your own email account for other work purposes.

Anonymous said...

"I would bet a substantial amount of money that this isn't the only way in which he's managing poorly; you don't do something like this if you're managing effectively in other areas."

You should have made that bet because you would be very wealthy right now! I resigned in frustration last week, boy did I wait too long. The final straw was being asked to talk with our hardest working volunteer about the inappropriate things she discusses in front of other volunteers (ie should her daughter go on the pill?), I gave two weeks notice, mind you I work 10 hour weeks, so I was being generous. When I refused to work till the middle of December, I was advised to just leave. So I did!
Enough venting. I have a dozen or volunteers whom report to me as part of my job. Great people who I truly enjoy. Having been denied the ability to say goodbye face to face what do I do? I would LOVE to tell the big fat truth but will not as I know that will just damage the not for profit to the core. What is a non vindictive person to do?

Ask a Manager said...

Hmmm, do you have their email addresses? I'd send them all an email letting them know how much you've enjoyed working with them but that you've moved on. Don't badmouth the boss; it'll look unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

The final wrap up on this wacky situation is that, surprise, the three of us have all quit! I was the second employee to give up, and the third was 6 weeks after me! Did I mention the co-founder did too? A bad manager is a bad manager.
We have all been replaced, but no one was ever contacted by the Board of Directors for an exit interview, shame on them.