Take Advantage of Software Tools to Control Instant Messaging Content

Take Advantage of Software Tools to Control Instant Messaging Content

Only 40 percent of organizations surveyed by AMA, ePolicy Institute, and Clearswift use software to control employees’ e-mail content. More troubling is the fact that merely 19 percent of employers use software to monitor the internal e-mail communications that take place among employees. [4]

Management’s failure to check internal e-mail is a disaster in the making. Off-the-cuff, casual e-mail conversations among employees are exactly the type of messages that tend to trigger lawsuits, arm prosecutors with potentially damaging evidence, and provide the media with headline-making e-disaster stories.

The facts paint a disturbing picture of workplace electronic communications: Two-thirds of employees use IM for personal conversations during working hours; [5] 90 percent of employees send and receive personal e-mail at work; [6] 66 percent of companies lack a policy for deleting nonessential e-mail messages; [7] and 43 percent of regulated businesses have no e-mail retention policy in place. [8]


[5]Silicon.com press release, ‘‘Flirting, Pornography, and Bad Language—How Staff Use IM’’ (September 15, 2003). Blue Coat Systems commissioned the survey of 200 workplace IM users in the UK. www.silicon.com/news/500012/1/6004.html.

[6]‘‘2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey,’’ conducted by American Management Association, The ePolicy Institute, and Clearswift. Survey findings available online at www.epolicyinstitute.com.


[8]Jeff Brandes, ‘‘The Role of Secure Archiving in the E-Mail Life Cycle,’’ Infostor (November 2003), www.infostor.com.

Instant Messaging Creates a Written Record That Can Be Used as Evidence—For or Against You

Where we once used the telephone to exchange business and personal information, today we use IM and e-mail. By replacing informal phone chat with computer chat, we have created a process by which conversations are recorded and business decisions are documented electronically. The result is written ammunition that can help make or break your case, should a workplace lawsuit be filed, or the wrong message land in the hands of the media.

In the past, if a lawyer were trying to uncover what employees were saying, doing, or thinking at a given time, the best evidence might come from notepad doodles, appointment calendar scrawl, telephone message receipts, and other informal documents. With the advent of the workstation computer and the prevalence of IM and e-mail, there is an unprecedented amount of documented business communication available today.

An inappropriate instant or e-mail message is not merely written,-sent, and forgotten. Message archiving capabilities on public networks allow people to log and store IM conversations without the other party’s consent, just like e-mail. Responsible employers use enterprise IM or gateway IM products to save and archive IM transmissions. Consequently litigators and investigators today often have access to a library of IM documents (business records and personal messages combined) for use as evidence. [9]

[9]Nancy Flynn, The ePolicy Handbook, New York, AMACOM, 2001.

Give Employees Rules to Write By

To help reduce exposures and manage overall IM risks, responsible employers must establish and enforce policies governing employees’ electronic writing. Settle for nothing less than good, clean commentary running through your employees’ instant messages.

Good IM content is businesslike and free of obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise offensive language. To guarantee your employees’ content is as appropriate as possible, be sure to incorporate cyberlanguage guidelines into your IM policy. [10]