WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

STEPHEN BUBB, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

I am worried about how easy it is to abuse the email system. Should we have an email policy?

The email is a wonderful tool. But it can also be abused. Many of us spend enormous amounts of time just dealing with emails - they are so easy and its simple to copy emails to all and sundry. You could easily spend hours of the day simply dealing with emails as opposed to getting on with the job.

There are also real issues about the abuse of email. For example, there has been a lot of publicity about people being sacked for sending sexist emails. More recently, there has been confusion about employees' right to privacy in the workplace.

There have been suggestions that employers don't have any right to monitor personal emails or phone calls. However, employers have every right to make clear to staff that equipment is strictly for organisational use.

But you will need to make this very clear in a policy statement. I think it is wise for organisations to consider devising one as this can help avert problems in the future. However, this is something you can discuss with your employees. Developing a policy is also a good way of establishing etiquette about email use.

For example, it would be good if staff thought carefully before widely copying their messages. What is the purpose of sending a copy? Is it just to cover your back, or to show off? Does the recipient really need to have a copy of your email. It is also easy to send a hurried response which is too aggressive in tone.

You can also establish that sending round jokes or attachments that you find amusing might not necessarily be helpful to those you are sending them to.

The use of email or indeed the phone for private calls is a real problem area. I think it would be wrong for organisations to completely ban private use. After all we expect our staff to go the extra mile for us so trying to stop them contacting their partners, family or friends is unhelpful. But such use needs to be proportionate and not get in the way of the organisation's business.

And for third-sector organisations that want to promote effective relationships with clients and stakeholders, please ensure the email is not an excuse for making personal contact.

It's also worth remembering that face-to-face, telephone or old-fashioned letters are good communication tools too.

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