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How to Protect Your Privacy at Work

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

I don't know about you, but every once in a while, I have a hard time resisting temptation. Hand me a chocolate bar and I'll hand you back an empty wrapper. Say the four little words every woman loves to hear ("Free Gift with Purchase") and I'll buy that stinky perfume or hideous lipstick. Give me a little spare time and a super fast Internet connection at work, and I'll be sneaking a peek at my personal e-mail before you can say, "Not on company time."

But who hasn't taken an exit off the Information Superhighway and veered into the website of their favorite store or personal blog or private e-mail account?

It's no big deal, right?


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To most employers, it's a VERY big deal. And they've taken steps to curtail this kind of behavior - steps that make "online privacy" an oxymoron in the workplace.

Now, as an employer, let me first say that they are well within their right to monitor their employees' online activity. After all, they're paying their employees to work, not play on the Internet. Plus, with all of the nasty viruses out there, they need to be able to safeguard their systems and networks.

However, as someone who has heeded the call of Ebay during work hours, I thought you might benefit from a little advice in protecting your privacy - online and offline - in the workplace.

First, a reality check: Assume you have ZERO privacy at work. Not when you're on the phone or work cell, not when you're online or the company network, not even when you're on your lunch break. And if you're working from home on a company computer or just logged into the company network, no privacy there either.

I would argue that the number one computer-related behavior that can get you into trouble with the boss is surfing the 'net and visiting websites and pages that have nothing to do with your job. A young woman I know was called into her boss's office for a performance review. After she sat down, he dropped a stack of papers at least three inches thick down in front of her, each page covered in bright yellow lines. "That's a log of your online activity for the month," he told her. "I've taken the liberty of highlighting every item unrelated to your job." She was reprimanded, put on online restriction, and given a 3-month probationary period. She was lucky: she could've lost her job.

E-mail is another problem area. Logging into your personal account is a no-no, but handing out your work e-mail address to your personal contacts can be dangerous, too. Everyone has that one person on their list that likes to send out off-color or inappropriate e-mails, and if the boss catches wind of them, your next online stop could be Monster.com.

You can't control what people send you, but if you get an inappropriate email at work, you need to respond quickly to that e-mail and make it crystal clear to the send that this kind of message cannot be sent to you again. Ignoring it can be interpreted as you agreeing with the content, and that's the last thing you want to communicate to your boss.

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Also, be absolutely certain that you're sending an e-mail to the correct address, especially if you ignore my advice and send off personal e-mails during work time. Everyone in the marketing department really doesn't need to see pictures of you from your last vacation at the topless beach.

The popularity of blogging has made it so difficult to resist a quick peek at someone else's or a brief update of your own blog during the work day. But as you go to post a new entry, keep this in mind: WWMBD (IHRT) - What Would My Boss Do (If He Read This). Considering most people use their blogs as a place to let off steam, I'm assuming that you don't want your boss to be your number one blog fan.

A good rule of thumb is this: Don't write, say or do anything at work that you don't want your employer to know about. Keep job hunting, medical issues, and work rage strictly for home use on your home computer using your home Internet connection. If you do work at home, make sure that you're logged out of your company's network and that you've switched to your personal computer before you delve into personal e-mailing, surfing and blogging. It may take a little extra time, but it's well worth the effort if it helps to maintain your online privacy.

Let's assume that you NEVER engage in any personal e-mailing, blogging or surfing at work. There's still the issue of keeping your work safe from prying eyes. Many of us work in companies where we deal with sensitive information meant for only us - not co-workers - to see. To protect that information, ask for a glare or privacy guard for your computer screen, and when you step away from your desk, log off or password-protect your files. At the end of the day, clear your browser history and empty any stored pages.

And my last tip: be careful when faxing, copying or printing any private or sensitive information. I can't tell you how many times I've thrown a sheet into the fax or onto the copier and forgotten to retrieve it when I'm done. At the end of the day, there is usually a stack of paper on the printer, too, and who knows how many people have sifted through it before me.

Remember: Big Brother IS watching, so follow my advice to keep your private matters PRIVATE.

For more FREE tips on advancing your career and navigating the workplace, sign up for my FREE e-zine "Lipstick Leadership" at LipstickLeadership.com today! And check out the products I've developed to guide you toward the success you deserve!

�I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions and not upon our circumstances.� � Martha Washington