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The HR Doctor Is In

"The Human Side of E-Mail"

Dear HR Doctor:
The HR Doctor received a lot of feedback on the policy suggestions made in a recent column about e-mail, published in County News. Extracts from an exchange with Ed Williams, assistant county administrator of McLean County, Ill., highlight an important issue that Ed was kind enough to raise - by e-mail, of course:

"Like numerous employers, we put out a regular newsletter that contains such things as employee advertisements to sell cars, furniture, etc. These types of items were cluttering up our e-mail bulletin boards. Rather than prohibit it, we decided it was an issue of a healthy workforce, 'employee friendly' to continue it, so we had data processing create a bulletin board which was for non-business purposes. This relieved the 'business' bulletin board of a lot traffic while retaining the employee's ability to advertise their cars, boats, houses, etc., for sale.

"I know it is a touchy issue, but I am also inclined to allow announcements even if they are of a religious nature. I personally think it may violate the constitutional separation of church and state to allow employees to have a Bible in the public's view on their desks, but I see nothing wrong with their posting notices of church meetings/events on our bulletin board. The messages are not read by the general public and employees are not 'targeted' by such messages. They are free to pay attention or disregard them.

"Although I agree that an e-mail policy must prohibit any activity which is otherwise prohibited, such as sexual or any other type of harassment, I would bet that everyone realizes that personal messages continue and, in fact, can also be healthy. It is more convenient for employees to use e-mail because the other employee doesn't even have to be there, it is less disruptive to the other employees because he/she can read and reply at his or her convenience instead of being interrupted while busy.

"In short, I prefer a policy which recognizes our diversity and allows people to 'connect' to others at work. I think our e-mail policies need to reflect the legitimacy of personal messages so that some people will not feel guilty about violating a policy which they know is regularly violated. Thanks for listening. That's my two-cents worth."


Dear Ed,
Thanks for taking the time to write and thanks for reading the HR Doctor's columns. I hope you enjoy them.

The idea of using the e-mail network for "business purposes" should not be taken so rigidly that we, in effect, surrender to a "bean counter's" definition of "business purpose."

I believe you are very correct in stating that improving employee morale and communications through mechanisms, including permitting e-mail use to announce charity events, good news, success stories, suggestion program winners, the county employee picnic, etc., would constitute a "legitimate public purpose" being served. Some places are moving to an "Intra-net" that includes specific space for an employee bulletin board for classified ads, birthday greetings, announcements, etc. That way, there is a place in the system where one can go to read this information without it being "inflicted" on the entire network of e-mail subscribers.

What is problematic, i.e., would be tough to articulate a "legitimate public purpose," would be religious messages, in terms of content, or proselytizing messages. You bring up very valid points and I appreciate the fact that you took the time to write and remind us of the human side of e-mail.

Best regards,
The HR Doctor

(The HR Doctor was written by Phil Rosenberg, director of Human Resources, Broward County, Fla.)


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