Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Nosy bosses

How much prying into your private life is an employer entitled to do in the name of protecting their reputation? How far can they go before you tell them to mind their own business?

Some employers routinely monitor their workers' drinking, smoking and drug use, check their criminal records, vet their emails and favoured websites, or ban controversial activities like political protests. Is all this personal surveillance really justified?

I suspect a lot of this nosiness is just a way of showing who's boss and has little to with the firm's reputation.

I shouldn't think their customers care a jot who has a cocaine habit or who wants to smash capitalism as long as they do their job properly.

But this very week a teacher in Cambridge was reprimanded by her Principal for posing in her underwear on a website. She had jeopardised the school's reputation, he said, and acted inappropriately. He ordered the immediate removal of the photos from the website and was consulting his superiors about further action.

Do the pupils or parents really think these risqué photos have affected her teaching? I doubt it. More likely, they were just intrigued and amused.

Of course some personal monitoring is necessary. Making sure that anyone working with children has no history of child abuse is important. Likewise ensuring that pilots aren't drunk in the cockpit. But beyond these basic safeguards, your private life should be your concern and nobody else's.

Objecting to employees who wear crosses, wear earrings, sport tattoos, or dye their hair a strange colour, is ridiculous. All those sartorially-correct bankers still managed to screw up the economy big-time. Maybe a few purple-haired, multi-pierced ones would have done a better job?

If you ask me, the people who really deserve close scrutiny are not ordinary employees but all those sneaky politicians busy lining their pockets at our expense. As far as they're concerned, the more prying the better.

Question: Would it be equally "inappropriate" if the teacher had posted her holiday snaps, lying on the beach in her bikini? Would it be inappropriate that a pupil might have seen her semi-naked on the sand? Someone's seriously over-reacting here.


Wisewebwoman said...

I so agree with you Nick. The telescope should be pointed at Dems What Rules Us, whatever guise they're in and not on some poor teacher in her knickers somewhere in cyber space, though her judgement is poor, or maybe it was her pockets.
We are becoming insanely monitored, my personal favourite is the photo that comes in the mail with a hefty fine attached:
"You've run a red light".
Spare me.

Nick said...

www - I wouldn't say I'm that closely monitored personally, but when it comes to work, employers sometimes think that because they employ you they're entitled to check your entire life.

Liz said...

I would agree with you on the whole and I have nothing against an attractive young woman posing in underwear - except if she is a teacher. I think it could threaten the teacher pupil relationship that must be one of distance. (But I haven't read the details of this case and only saw the headlines so perhaps i am misjudging her.)

Suburbia said...

The revelations produced from prying into bosses (rather than employees) private lives would, perhaps, be far more interesting.

Nick said...

Liz - The news stories I saw didn't say anything about the teacher-pupil relationship. But would the pupils really be put off by photos of their teacher in her undies?

Suburbia - Yes, I bet the bosses have plenty to hide - prostitutes, mistresses, computer porn, all the usual stuff. Though there again, would that actually affect their work?

Quickroute said...

I'm with ya
and lets keep taps on the ceo's and execs too - can't trust em

Baino said...

God at least they're interested. My bosses don't give a hoot about their employees. Only propriety prevents me from blogging about their introspective navel gazing.

I think a teacher in her undies is a little left field, especially if the kids have access to the site. It's a bit like prominent sportspeople behaving badly, because they're 'public' figures and role models they need to retain a certain level of decorum.

Dave Hampton said...

I'm on both sides of the street on this one, Nick. On the one hand, I hate it when I'm monitored senselessly for 'policy violations'. My e-mail is blocked if it goes to competitors, I can't leave a message for a friend on Facebook on my own time, Skype is blocked as a "security hole". I remove or disable monitoring software as as fast as I can find it. It's a stupid game.

Similarly, I need my people to be intelligent, pricipled, and productive, and I assume that they are unless its proven otherwise. I don't monitor their time or activity, but I do hold them accountable for their output and their common sense.

The problem comes when people do things that are offensive or disrespectful to others. I would say that evangelizing a religion or political stance is as inappropriate as cruising porn sites Similarly, at work, they are there to do work with others, and trading stocks or running an e-bay business is inappropriate. I would have a stern talk with anyone who wasn't doing their job, just as I would if they weren't ever at their desk or didn't come in to work.

What I've learned, though, is that unless it's made into a policy, people feel that they are being singled out, rather than being held to fair rules applied equally. It's then only a short step to enforcing policy with filters and monitoring, which I feel is over the line.

But with a lawsuit waiting behind violations in the US, I understand why some employers feel they must be proactive. I just don't agree with it.

Nick said...

Quicky - Even if the people at the top are up to all sorts of disreputable things, they still leave with nice fat pay-offs.

Baino - They're only interested from the angle of whether their employees are sullying the company image. But is posing in your undies really "behaving badly"?

Dave - Your experiences seem to be a classic example of the obsessive monitoring that sometimes goes on. Exactly, output and common sense are what's important.

I agree religious or political evangelising is unacceptable, mainly because it can upset people and stop them doing their job properly. A general policy, sure, as long as it's sensible and doesn't degenerate to petty restrictions.

Nick said...

An interesting reader's comment on one newspaper story: "When I was at school most of the male teachers seemed to spend all their off duty time drunk in a pub, but that was not considered to bring the school into disrepute, so why should this case be different?"

Anonymous said...

I think you are right - it's totally irrelevant. So long as the job gets done and well why should it matter?

Nick said...

Conor - Ah, the voice of common sense! Glad to know I'm not in a minority of one here (though that wouldn't be for the first time). As you say, as long as the job gets done. Or does posing scantily-clad delete your knowledge of algebra?

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Nick, This new policy raises interesting questions in the context of your I trust?

“What? Are my holiday pictures stored somewhere else besides on my PC?” Our resource policy is clear on the personal use of business equipment:

“Users may not use our Electronic Resources for personal use in a manner that interferes with work or any responsibilities to customers, vendors, suppliers, or colleagues.”

“But I am just having some pictures and MP3’s on my computer; this does not interfere with work, does it?”

Yes it does: When you save non-business related data on your computer it will be backed up on our servers and stored on tapes for at least 10 years. You don’t want us to have your holiday pictures for 10 years, do you?!

It is understandable that you want to share for example your vacation pictures with your colleagues and put them temporarily on your PC.
Therefore you now have your own personal folder called ‘My Personal Stuff’. This folder will not be backed up; only you can access items stored in this folder.

This will save us a lot of space on our servers and therefore a big amount of money!

Nick said...

Dave - If we expect our employer not to nose into our private life, I think it follows that we should also try to keep our private life off the company computer! Apart from anything else, it means our scurrilous gossip is potentially accessible to IT and senior management.

When I worked for a national charity, the staff spent more time on Facebook than on the official charity website. This seriously clogged up the computers.