Email abuse - a question of policy


Despite the potential damage that can be caused by abuse of company email, a third of office workers in the UK say that they have been sent sexually explicit or racist messages by colleagues.

What's more, according to a poll of over 2,000 people sponsored by email security outfit Clearswift, seven per cent of staff admit that they have sent company-confidential information to recipients outside their organisation.

The findings provoked Jon Lee, chief executive of Clearswift, to suggest that "bosses may as well leave their offices unlocked at night".

"The amount of inappropriate content making its way round UK businesses' email systems is astounding," he added.

"Employees need to stop and think about the trouble they could get in if these mails got into the wrong hands."

Part of the problem, Lee said, is that IT spending has tended to focus on the hazards of inbound email threats such viruses, spam and Trojans. But outbound content compliance needs to be equally high on the corporate agenda.

While the majority of employees are generally aware that sending inappropriate emails could be dangerous to their company, abuse of corporate email continues because too many firms do not make their staff aware of what is and isn't acceptable use.

Only half of those surveyed said that they fully understood their organisation's guidelines.

That leaves one in 10 who said they don't understand their company's policy, a quarter whose companies don't have a policy at all and a further 15 per cent who just don't know either way.

But despite this, almost two-thirds said that they would be concerned about their colleagues' abuse of email if they were put in their CEO's shoes.

Meanwhile, whereas a growing proportion of employers in the Unites States now monitor workers' web usage and retain outgoing emails, workers in the UK are divided on whether their employers even have the right to monitor their emails.

Four out of 10 said that they were happy for their email to be monitored, while one in three felt that emails were private correspondence.

"Interestingly, a further 25 percent of respondents were happy for their email to be monitored – but only for work-related emails," Lee said.

"It is this grey area that is causing companies so many problems – their employees are bringing their social lives into the workplace. A clear, well-communicated email policy backed up by the right processes and systems will ensure companies and individuals remain on the right side of the law."