Workplace privacy and the expectations that go with it is a thorny and ever evolving issue. A few decades ago, many employees likely had high expectations of privacy in the workplace, as the breach of it was relegated mostly to overheard phone conversations. More recently, with the advent of email and its proliferation into the workplace, the thinking around workplace privacy has changed. Today, many organizations require their employees to sign paperwork indicating they understand that any and all emails sent through the company's email system and servers are the property of the organization—and that the employee should have no expectation of privacy.
While one may agree to the idea that the organization owns the emails sent through its own system, they may be taken aback at the thought of someone--a manager, an IT person, an HR executive--actually reading those emails. In most cases, of course, no one is reading any one employee's emails unless there is cause to, such as suspected misbehavior.
This topic was a discussion point at the recent Boston CHRO Leadership Summit (MIT Sloan Executive Education was a sponsor). The executive boardroom session, "The Gold Mine Between the Lines—Analytics-Driven HR," focused on organizational analytics and how they are evolving to drive wide-scale transformation. This discussion included the use of meta data around email to understand how an organization collaborates and reaches (or does not reach) performance management goals. The diverse group represented private sector businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies. Interestingly, some of the participants commented that their millennial employees (in general) aren't concerned by the idea of their employer looking at email meta data, or even the contents of email.