Employee e-mail surveillance

The American Management Association conducts an annual survey of large organizations in the United States to determine the extent to which of these organizations monitor employee communications. The results of the 2000 survey reveal some interesting trends:

The storage and review of employees' e-mail messages has increased dramatically over the past three years. In 1997, 14.9% of organizations conducted such reviews, while the 2000 survey reveals that 38.1% of organizations do so.

The number of companies conducting e-mail monitoring has increased significantly faster over the past three years than the number of companies that monitor other forms of communication, such as telephone conversations, voice mail, computer usage and overall telephone use.

The only employee activities monitored more closely than e-mail communications are Internet use and telephone use. Fifty-four percent of companies monitor Internet use, while 44% monitor telephone use, looking at numbers that are called and time spent on the phone.

More than 10% of the companies that conduct e-mail monitoring do not inform employees that they do so.

Companies in the financial services industry, as a category, monitor e-mail with the greatest frequency, the survey found, while nonprofit organizations in the nonprofit sector monitored e-mail less often.

What are the implications of employee e-mail monitoring? For some employees, it will obviously be regarded as an intrusion of privacy. Given the good economy and the difficulty of finding and retaining qualified people, this could pose a problem for some employers. However, e-mail monitoring will likely end up being about as controversial as employee drug testing. The early reaction is anger, followed by compromise on the extent of its use, followed by its adoption as a standard business practice.

This story, "Employee e-mail surveillance" was originally published by Network World.

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