In HR we work in the gray. In fact, we live in one big gray, fuzzy area and this makes a lot of people uneasy. As humans we generally prefer that things balance out. As much as we tout our “thinking outside of the box” skills, we really like thinking inside the box. We would much rather be inside the safe parameters of the box, with its neatly defined guidelines. You step outside of those neat lines and you are in unknown territory – as Captain Barbosa would say “there be monsters out there!”
It is this fear of the gray, fuzzy work netherworld that I believe is why we sometimes find ourselves doing things that we know we have the right to do, but at the same time know (or at least should know) we shouldn’t be doing.
One key example of this is randomly reading your employee’s email. In most instances you, as an employer, have every right to do this (at least for now). But does that mean that you should? Stop and think why creeping on your employees is a good idea, think about what your reputation will look like if they find out you did this, then ask yourself if you can’t get what you are looking for in a less intrusive, more collaborative, less Norman Batesish way.
I speak from experience on this. A long time ago, when pleated Dockers were the epitome of business casual and I was early in my career, I found myself siding with managers who wanted the ease of simply pulling emails to find out what they wanted to know. We were completely within our rights, but that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. I have long since changed my lazy ways, which is good because as technology has evolved, so has one’s expectation of privacy… Regardless, I am certain that in this flat-front, skinny fit, every day is casual world we currently live in, if you are engaging in this type of behavior, your reputation as an employer of choice will likely suffer.
But this goes beyond email snooping. Can you go through an employee’s locker? Assuming you have the right verbiage in place, probably so, but does that mean that you should? Probably not. Nothing kills morale faster than for someone to come up and find the HR person at their locker with a bolt cutter. Why do you need to get into that locker? What is in there, and what is the value? Have you thought of asking nicely? And by nicely, I am not referring to “pretty please, with sugar on top, open the (explicative) locker.”
So think before you act. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t make it the right thing to do.