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Work email and personal email are quite different in two ways

1. Work email benefits my employer; personal email is for my benefit
Separating personal and work email is a matter of ethics. My employer is not paying me to send emails to relatives or friends unless it’s somehow related to work. I view email as I view phone calls. Occasional personal communication at work may be fine but more is not. Managing personal crises, of course, requires immediate attention no matter where you are.

Keep separate accounts for your work email and your personal email. Use Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail or an account supplied by your home Internet provider to write to friends and relatives. I’ve had relatives find my work email and send a message. I copy their message over to my personal account and respond, asking that they use that address in the future.

Employers have the ability to monitor all outgoing Internet traffic. When I send e-mails on my personal account from my work computer, it can be monitored. I don’t want more workplace rules so I need to be ethically diligent about personal email. I can send personal messages before or after work from my home computer on my personal account.

2. The tone and style of writing are different
Personal email is not just an exchange of information but preserving or enhancing a relationship. It’s an important connection in today’s world where friends and relatives are scattered and very few people write letters. I don’t have to think about time zones, if they have children they’re trying to calm down for sleep or which stationery to use. Certainly there are times the phone or a mailed letter is more appropriate, but email keeps me connected with people I might otherwise lose in an increasingly isolated and busy world.

Work email should have a more formal tone. Often it doesn’t and that creates an unprofessional image. It’s difficult to decide the tone for different work relationships. How well do I know the person? What is my status compared to theirs? What is the culture of the workplace?

Email is a seductive communication method
The one dimension of it invites ethical and professional lapses. Civility evaporates. We create our own problems such as unprofessional never-ending banter and mixing personal and work email. Think about where and when you are composing and about your writing style before you push ‘send’.

Related articles
The Workplace: Your company monitors your personal e-mail, The International Herald Tribune, http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/05/business/workcol06.php
Surfing the Net on Your Boss's Time, About.com: Career Planning, http://careerplanning.about.com/cs/bosscoworkers/a/net_at_work.htm
Should one answer personal e-mail at work?, Expert Village, http://homegarden.expertvillage.com/experts/personal-email-work.htm
Putting All Your E-Mail in One Basket, The New York Times, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B00E7DA163AF935A15755C0A9659C8B63&sec=technology&spon=&pagewanted=1