WWYD: A Former Co-Worker’s Private Correspondence

In this installment of WWYD, a former co-worker forgets to purge his personal correspondence before leaving a company:

Recently someone left the company where I work, and we inherited his work Gmail account and history, which has a lot of relevant information about ongoing projects. My coworker friend just realized that this person did not take ANY of his Gchats “off the record,” so all of that personal correspondence is in there.

I have the login info, and so does our whole department of about half a dozen people. My friend’s rationale is that if the departed coworker was stupid enough to leave all of this in the public record, the chats kind of deserve to be read.

It’s a pickle! The fact that there are virtually no consequences or stakes either way actually makes this much more nuanced for me. I’ll never see this person again, almost certainly. — C.

Attention office workers everywhere: Do not use your work email to send personal correspondence. Do not use your work account to have personal IM conversations. Use your personal accounts for personal matters. This is common sense, but let’s just get this reminder out now.

Now back to this pickle. So back when this coworker was still an employee, nobody had access to his email account except for him, right? So these Gchats were accessible only by him for a period of time until he handed over his account and, yes, foolishly forgot to purge his personal stuff from it. Now that other people have access to his account, do they deserve to be read? I don’t believe so. Will they be read anyway? Probably. Offices love gossip. I’m pretty sure by the time I post this WWYD, most of those private chats will have been read and talked about during sad desk lunch time.

We don’t have control over what our coworkers do, but we can make our own decisions, like not to read someone’s personal conversations when you know how upsetting it would be for you to discover that because you made a really dumb mistake, your former coworkers are now reading about your personal matters and gossiping about it. I know I’d be upset if that happened to me. Sure, this person may not know that this is what happening, but that doesn’t change the circumstances, or that because the grapevine is the grapevine, the gossip may find a way to travel back to him. How mortifying that would be.

Personally, I would choose to have no role in this. When would I do this kind of thing in other aspects of my life? I’m not the kind of person who reads someone’s journal because she accidentally left it out on the dining room table. I’m not the kind of person who snoops through all the drawers in someone’s house just because I’ve been given keys and a housesitting assignment. And so: I’m not the kind of person who would read a former coworker’s personal correspondence. Maybe that makes me boring, or no fun, but since this is a WWYD, that’s what I would choose to do. I hope those GChats are mostly conversations about what kind of sandwiches he was thinking about buying for lunch.

 

Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.

 

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31 Comments / Post A Comment

honey cowl (#1,510)

Normally I am a little (a lot) less moral than Mike on these WWYDs but this one makes me SHUDDER. Do not read those, person!!! Why would you do that??? Would you want your COWORKERS reading your personal stuff? Ahhhhhhhhh

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

Good call, Mike. A few years ago, I would have been on board with reading the conversations. But now I am grown up and would just quietly delete them for the person, especially if it were a friend. I really have no interest in snooping ever and I think that makes life a little easier.

OllyOlly (#669)

I can’t believe a person is even hesitating about what to do! So the employee made a mistake, don’t be a snoop. That is just so awful.

@OllyOlly I feel like she is actually wondering if she should delete them to prevent others from reading them?

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

The main thing I have learned from WWYD here at The Billfold is that Mike Dang is a way better person than I am.

KatNotCat (#766)

Mike, you are very nice.

I’m not feeling as nice: For fuck’s sake, you know perfectly well whether or not this is appropriate (it’s not) and how you feel about doing it (a little bad, or you wouldn’t ask). Read them if you’d like but don’t hope other people are going to help you rationalize any misgivings you have.

Whether the correspondence is banal or scintillating, I really couldn’t see myself caring enough to waste the time reading through it and would stay out of it completely. If someone tried to draw me into it, I’d tell them as much: “Sorry, so busy, can’t be bothered.”

And then I would purge my cache and any possible non-work-related emails immediately.

littleoaks (#1,801)

What on earth would be the appeal of poking around in a coworker’s personal email/chats? Even if you think their mistake gives you the right to punish them by reading their correspondence (which, really?), it still sounds boring as hell.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

In all honesty I can’t see myself reading them either, but can we all stop pretending that we can’t imagine why someone would? They could contain useful inside info about work OR unfiltered comments about yourself or a coworker. We’re all at least casually interested in what others are really thinking.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@EvanDeSimone I mean, I am a huge snoop, and I love knowing other people’s business. But I am horrified at the thought of someone else reading my personal correspondence, so I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be writhing with shame if I did it to someone else.

Are any of the Gchats work related? Why not just purge them yourself, as an act of kindness?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@stuffisthings Psst . . . This is what I ended up doing.

DEFINITELY DON’T READ – this could have been me! By the time I left my last job, I was being treated pretty horrifically by a superior in my department. I sent a LOT of (supposedly) confidential emails during my last 6 months there to my direct supervisor and HR. I just found out that instead of closing my email account and personal login information and creating a new identity for the girl who took over my position, they just changed the username and password, giving her access to three years of my emails and files. This would have been fine if they hadn’t included embarassing and confidential reports of sexual and psychological harassment by the superior in my department. She let it slip that she had access to all this stuff when she called me yesterday asking for some assistance with a project, and I was surprised and kind of angry that HR and IT had made all of the emails and files available to her!

limenotapple (#1,748)

And, to suggest that someone “deserves” this because they made a mistake…well, that’s just silly. Not everyone understands or considers the implications of their actions, nor does everyone understand about technology and privacy. That doesn’t mean that they deserve to have their personal life broadcast. I think it would even be nice to reach out to the person, if possible, and let them know that they maybe should keep work and private lives separate in the future. That’s a better way to teach a lesson than to broadcast their personal lives.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

Well, obviously, morally, you should’t read them. But if you’re just going to read them and then put them in “the vault,” never speaking of them again, where’s the real harm? Yes, yes, I wouldn’t want people reading my gchats, but…if I never knew about it? Would it really matter?

Maybe contact the former employee, let him know, and give him a week to clean out the account? I get that there’s important work info in there and you could accidentally read personal emails sifting through it, but give the guy a chance to correct a (pretty big, potentially embarrassing) mistake.

I’m with Mike. I’d stay the heck out of it (and TRY to resist the urge to read any of it myself. Sharing with the department is a bit much).

EM (#1,012)

Your punishment for reading will be guilt and also the fact that most people’s gchats (I assume, based on mine) are super boring.

“what should i eat for lunch?”
“i’m having leftover lasagna.”
“mmm that sounds so good I’m so jealous.”
“did you see this Beyonce GIF.”
“omg Beyonce is the best”
“i know right”
ad infinitum

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@Michelle You have just paraphrased every work gchat I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t care if anyone read that (seriously, who would? waaaaaaaaaay too much time on their hands).
But I’m really careful about making my emails/texts/chats really banal, so should anyone have the urge to find my seeeecreeets, they have no written record (sorry journals, you’re out, too!).

KatNotCat (#766)

@Michelle I have a evil hope that if they do read them, they will be 98% boring with the occasional well-deserved criticism of the people reading them.

“OMG, letterwriter seriously talks about going paleo nonstop and then gets Doritos from the vending machine every afternoon”
“is that the same girl who got waaaaay too TMI about how trying to go vegan made her gassy?”
“YES UGH”
“haha aren’t you glad you’ll be leaving soon?”

themegnapkin (#444)

@KatNotCat who has been reading my gmail account!!!! Because going paleo and then trying to be vegan covers a disproportionate amount of my correspondence, and I am sure my co-workers think I’m nuts for my weird food habits.

nutmeg (#1,383)

I most likely wouldn’t read them, but I would really want to (literally the only thing stopping me would be knowing how much of a dick I’d feel like).

I usually try not to be too judgy here, but WHO WOULD DO THIS?! I recently started a new job and somehow the logins and passwords were saved in chrome for ALL of the person who formerly had my job’s accounts. I’m talking twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Did I snoop? NO!! And I would not like to be friends with anyone who would.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@langedangereux I’m still not saying you should snoop, and good on you for not, and yes I understand that not everyone gets technology blah blah – but seriously? You left ALL of your passwords saved? Like, no attempt? That person needs a lesson in technology.

Megano! (#124)

@bgprincipessa Oh man I just realized I might have done this last year by accident? And I am not particularly technologically inept, I just legit forgot to do it. Or I probably didn’t save my passwords. I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT I DID ON THAT COMPUTER.

@bgprincipessa agreed! They totally need a technology lesson. But they don’t need me snooping :)

Andie@twitter (#1,417)

This happened at my old job – a co-worker and friend left and didn’t realize that our boss could request access to not only their new incoming mail, but also their entire sent archives. No reason for the archives except, she did use them to find an email that I’d added a funny cat picture to and forwarded to my friend. “HOW DO I KNOW?” you may ask. The old boss printed out a copy of the email and confronted me with it at an annual review. Hee! Luckily, I was using that review to let her know I had found another position and would be giving my notice.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Andie@twitter WHAT? awful that the boss did that to you.

@bgprincipessa Also, really? Are bosses really surprised that people send funny cat pictures to each other. That is what offices do.

Slutface (#53)

Those chats have been read and reread by your coworkers at this point, but I wouldn’t do it unless that person was REALLY interesting or super hot.

Megano! (#124)

Oh man, I wouldn’t do it just cuz there is probably SO MUCH YOU JUST DON’T WANT TO KNOW ON THERE.

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