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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

E-mail Time Wasting

I work for a rather large company. A friend of mine, who was an hourly employee, got fired for inaccurate time recording. However, she had worked there for around 9 years, did a very good job and was loved by all. She got a new boss who took issue with the way she reported her time and was fired pretty much without warning. In investigating her, they found that there were 4 other employees that she emailed with on a daily basis. Two employees have been reprimanded. I was one of those employees and have received a reprimand for excessive emailing. This reprimand has been presented to me as a “first and final notice” with threat of termination. The amount of emailing that I had with this employee was approx 7-8 emails a day. The content was short – a sentence or two most of the time. I was also nailed for forwarding larger content emails (pictures etc) to others that had been sent to me by other employees.

I have worked for the company for 8 years and am an exempt employee. I work around 50-60 hours a week with only a rare lunch break. I believe that if I am going to do a job, I am going to do it well. I am not able to complete the work well in less time. I rarely take or make personal phone calls. I do, however, check my personal email, which is not against company policy. Besides this extreme warning that I got, my boss has also informed me that I would be able to get the work done if I didn’t email so much. All the effort and extra time, without pay, is completely dismissed. Needless to say, I am really upset about all this.

My question for you is about how I can be singled out and given such a strong reprimand? The emailing policies have been overlooked or not enforced for every single person I have asked. In fact, I know of nobody else that has received a reprimand, other than the one person who was also a friend of the fired employee. I also do not understand what excessive is. Clearly we should not forward things and I will not do that. But, I am scared to death now to answer any email that is even remotely personal. A coworker announced her pregnancy and sent the sonogram and I was scared to death to even respond with “congratulations.” Personally, I do not consider 7-8 emails a day to be excessive, esp if the they were very short and discussed things as simple as if they were going out for lunch if they would bring me something. Also, with the amount of time I put into that job, that amount of emailing does not account for my overtime hours as my boss now concludes. The policy is vague and I am at the mercy of my boss’s subjective evaluation. How can I protect myself from being fired? This same boss, only a few weeks earlier, launched what felt like personal attacks on a mid year review. For the time I have worked there, I was treated as a valuable, award winning even, employee, but the new boss has a different opinion. Our HR person is someone who is not someone that I want to have anything at all. I feel like asking assistance from her would be like walking into a hungry lion’s den.

This, surprisingly, is not at all about e-mail. It may seem like it's about e-mail, but it's not. It's about a new boss who wants to change things.

The non-exempt employee who everyone liked was fired because her new boss didn't like the way she recorded time. This translates into she was putting down that she worked more hours then she did. Now, I'm not there, so I don't know whether that was an accurate assessment or not. I don't know if she was eating lunch at her desk while chatting with people the whole time, but because she was at her desk she counted it as work time, or if the new boss just wanted her to clock out every time she went to the potty.

Let's assume it was closer to the latter. Just because someone is well liked does not mean they are doing a good job. Even if she was a stellar employee, she's gone now and that's her boss's prerogative. It sounds like the e-mail investigation occurred after his mind was made up to fire her. You got caught up in this.

For the record, I don't think exchanging 7-8 short e-mails a day is a bad thing. In fact, it can be a lot more efficient than standing in the kitchen in front of the coffee pot chatting. It also helps build relationships. In my last job I worked with people at all of our company sites. I only saw these people face to face rarely. E-mail and phone was how we built our relationship.

But, as I said this is not about e-mail. Your boss pulled e-mail out as a reason for you taking so long to get your work done. He doesn't see you putting in 50-60 hours a week as a positive. He sees it as a negative.

He believes that you are being inefficient. The fact that you have time to "waste" on e-mail supports his belief. Please note, I am not saying you are inefficient. I have no idea, as I'm not there and I don't know what your job expectations are.

What you need to do is lay off the e-mailing for a while because that is an easily observable sign that you are wasting time. But, more importantly, you need to sit down with your boss and discuss how he thinks you could increase your efficiency. Do this with an open mind. I know you think you are a careful and hard worker who is using every minute wisely, but he may see things that you do not. Listen and take his suggestions.

Go into this assuming that he knows what he is talking about. This may or may not be true, but if you go in assuming the opposite you are sunk before you start. He's given you a clear signal that taking 50-60 hours a week to do your job is unacceptable to him. Listen to this. And remember, this isn't about e-mail.


Surya said...

Very good advice Evil.

Do check with the manager on where you can cut out doing stuff which does not really matter much but take up so much of your time. I have seen people spend a lot of time on prettying up excel sheets and power point slides with colors and graphics and animation even when their job does not deem it necessary.

Please have a paper trail of the tasks your manager ask you to do. It might help in taking a look at your workload.

Do compare notes with others who do similar work on the duties and responsibilities etc. If your work load is not typically large compared to them, ask for tips to improve efficiency.

If you spend a lot of time on your job because others do not get their part of the job done, let your boss know.

Sorry to hear about the situation and hope it gets sorted out amicably.

Charles said...

"new boss"

"fired pretty much without warning"

"first and final notice"

Assuming that EHRL is right, this is NOT about email. Then it could be:

The new boss is coming in with a "I'm tough" attitude to let everyone know who the new boss is (I've seen this happen many times, especially when there are employees who have been with the company for as long as the times mentioned - 8 or 9 years). Insecurity causes some people to act like jerks.

Or, he/she wants to get his/her own people in there and needs to get rid of the "old" people first.

Or, quite simply, he/she was hired to "clean house." This is often cheaper than offering severance packages.

So, yea, you could follow EHRL's advice; but I've also seen it backfire on some employees. I've seen managers say something along these lines:

"The fact that you are asking me how to do your job tells me that you are not qualified and that you are in over your head. We need someone who can keep pace with the changes that happen here. And that's not you"

So, I would suggest that you also get your resume up-to-date.

Bob Hall said...

It's appears to me that the friend got a new boss, not the writer.

Therefore, there should be SOME kind of relationship with this person's boss where both parties have an understanding of the other person. This should not be uncharted territory.

I agree with EHRL that the writer needs to sit down with the boss and honestly look at what can be done to help the real or perceived issue with productivity and efficiency.

The bottom line is this: you NEVER win a fight with your boss...ever. Each of us has as much responsibility for our relationship with our boss as the boss does with us. Fix it.

CindyB said...

I agree with Charles. A great manager would welcome an employee taking the advice of EHRL, but my interpretation of it is that there's another hidden agenda going on here (on the managers side).

A number of years ago, I faced a similar experience (if I'm interpreting it correctly) - and it was a confusing and miserable time for a while there.

Is there someone at your work who you have a good relationship with, who is an experienced leader and has a great reputation and will give you honest feedback and sound advice? If so, I'd suggest you approach them and have the conversation that EHRL recommends.

Good luck!

she said: said...

Was it excessive email? Or excessive email "forwarding"?

The first seems random, the second sticks a big giant target on your back.

Anonymous said...

Just is case it is just about the email, if the original poster was emailing 5 people 7-8 social emails a day plus forwarding "large content emails" (aka glurg and social spam) to another 4-5 daily, that's a lot of extraneous email.

My advice to the OP is to check her email habits just in case it really is the "too many emails" situation.

I would also add, that forwarding the glurge (those feel good urban legends), funny pics, videos, etc. can get you not only on management bad list, but annoy the heck out of your fellow co-workers as well. If any of those forwards were religious (yes even angels or god is watching you crap) or political in anyway, I can see HR issuing a "know that off now, last warnning" to people, especially as people I've gotten that stuff from never seem to realize how pushy and offensive it can be to constantly get this stuff if you're not in the same political or religious party.

The number of people who don't seem to realize that some of it is political (those rants about how america isn't what it used to be or how politicians in general are bad) or religious (yup, guardian angel stories count too).

Given that we don't know the particulars (was it her boss who came down on her, HR, her friends boss who she doesn't report to), I'm just saying that sometimes people are social spammers when they don't realize it, so just to be on the safe side, the OP should quickly check to make sure that she wasn't one of those people who constantly send out junk to others (and yes, sending that cute kitty pictures with 20 million hits that I've gotten 5 times already is junk, if you're going to do that kind of thing (1) chose something that's new and with less than 50,000 hits and (2) send it from and to a person email account or better yet, just link to it on facebook).


Anonymous said...

GET OUT NOW! Sorry to say but your career is over at the company. I have rarely seen an employee recover form a final warning. For whatever reason which I doubt it is related to email, your have rubbed your boss/mgt the wrong way.

Now go ahead an make nice as much as you can with your boss and cross all your "t"s and dot your "i"s and focus on a intense job hunt. Now if you truly want to be evil :) Go out on a disability if you have any condition will allow to and focus exclusively on your job hunt. Learn your lesson from this job and realize your boss is God to you when you are at work. They can make your life a living hell or a dream. Second thing to remember is that you are judged by the company you keep. No whining about being the company for 8yrs and 60 hrs a week, just get out.

Now I know there are other HR professionals who may disagree with me, but honestly one small slip up and the next thing you know you are in termination meeting. So now you have to explain being fired when you interview for a job.

Anonymous said...

Two comments, from the IT side:

- Don't use your company email to forward pictures and stories. These take up space on the email server and drive your IT folks bonkers. Use your personal account, and do it from home.

- Management, especially higher up, love the idea that they can quantify who is wasting time by checking email and web logs. They think it's easier than actually checking on whether work is getting done, or why not. I have been asked to check up on employees for their managers. It puts a bad taste in my mouth, because it's not fair. But it's common.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for the thoughtful posts. I just thought that I would give you some follow-up. I noted to my boss that people had been disappearing around there and asked him if I was going to be one of them. He looked at me like I had lost my mind. The work load is massive and I know I do a good job. I just got a positive review as well. While I know that anybody can be replaced, I don't feel like I will be replaced in the immediate future. I do a good job and feel confident about that. OT is overlooked by this company. Esp. in these insecure times, they are loading us up with more work than can possibly be done with any kind of quality in 40 hr/wk. It seems that the reprimand came strickly from HR when investigating the person who got fired. I was informed that the people she associated with electronically were all reprimanded and it all came from the HR person. The thing that gets me is that it was such a excessive warning for such a minor thing (IMHO). Also, everybody emails... Obviously, I no longer email anything of a personal nature. If I have something to say to a coworker, I get up and walk to their desk, if they are in our office. Of course this takes more time... I still cannot seem to find the time for breaks, so I must say, I feel kind of isolated from the world now. But, I have a job. I'm getting more and more depressed, but I have a job, at least for now.