Employers are ratcheting up their efforts to monitor employees, in more cases adding staff whose job it is to read workersâ€™ outgoing e-mail. About 55 per cent of companies retain and review e-mail, according to a 2005 survey by the American Management Association and Columbus, Ohio-based training and consulting firm The ePolicy Institute, up from 47 per cent in 2001. A quarter have fired workers for e-mail abuse. More than 60 per cent of companies with 1,000 or more employees either hire, or plan to hire, staff to read or otherwise analyse outbound e-mail, according to a 2005 study by Proofpoint, which specializes in e-mail security and content issues. A main concern: leakage of trade secrets. Some critics say personally reading outgoing e-mail is too time-consuming to be effective, as well as a violation of workersâ€™ privacy rights.
â€œWe actually think itâ€™s invasive,â€ says Gary Steele, CEO of Proofpoint in Cupertino, Calif.
â€œEmployers are taking a much more aggressive stance. ... The findings are a little astonishing,
and, for employees, quite scary.â€ Employers are also investigating specific employees they have concerns about, says Manny Avramidis, vice president of global human resources for the AMA. In an investigation, a supervisor will check phone records, e-mail and Web activity, and check how often an employee has used a key pass to enter and exit a building. â€œThe obvious concern,â€ Avramidis says, â€œis lost productivity.â€ The concern goes beyond e-mail. More companies are blocking instant messaging and employee access to personal e-mail accounts, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com. Another reason for concern: E-mail can come back to haunt employers if lawsuits are filed. Messages must often be divulged as part of the discovery process. One in five employers has had e-mail subpoenaed by courts and regulators, according to a report.