Sunday, July 30, 2017

Is it ever OK to peek at someone else's texts?


After a neighbor borrowed L.W.'s truck to haul debris to the town dump, he mentioned to L.W. that the truck was pulling to the right and that his tires seemed a bit worn.

"You really need to get that thing aligned and get some new tires," his neighbor mentioned to him after thanking him for the loan and returning the keys. "It's really not safe."

At first, L.W. was miffed that the neighbor complained after L.W. had done him the favor of lending him the truck. But then, after taking the truck for a ride, he realized his neighbor was right. So he called his nearby tire store to see if they had tires in stock for his truck. He was told it did, so he made an appointment to have the work done.

When he got to the store, there was a bit of a crowd, but a salesperson greeted him at the desk, looked up his appointment, and started the paperwork. During the transaction, the salesperson's cellphone rang. He picked it up, listened to the person on the other end of the call, hung up and placed his cellphone on the counter in front of L.W.

"Could you excuse me for a minute?" he asked L.W. "I need to check in on something in the garage."

The salesperson walked off, but left his cellphone. After several minutes of waiting, the cellphone made a dinging sound and L.W. noticed that a text message had popped up on his screen. A few seconds passed and then another text. Still another popped up a minute or so later. In short order, at least five text messages dinged up on the salesperson's cellphone screen.

L.W. was growing tired of waiting for the salesperson to return.

"I wondered if the texts might have something to do with why he was called away," writes L.W. "Maybe he needed the information being texted so he could finish up in the garage."

But L.W. was reluctant to read another person's texts, believing it to be an invasion of privacy.

"Was I wrong not to go find the guy and tell him about the texts?" asks L.W. "Should I have read them to see if they seemed like something he needed to get his work done?"

L.W. figures he could have read the text messages and if they didn't seem relevant to the guy's work, he could simply have said nothing. But if reading them might help the guy get his job done so he could return to get the paperwork for L.W.'s tires done, he figured he might have been doing both of them a favor.

While many might be tempted to take a peek at another person's text messages when no one is looking, the right thing is to respect the other person's privacy and mind your own business, whether it be a colleague, a date, a friend, or a salesperson at a tire store.

The salesperson shouldn't have left his phone lying on the counter. L.W. is right in thinking he might have needed the texts to finish up whatever it was he was called off to do. It's an awful feeling to be kept waiting, but that's no reason to read another person's text messages. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

When employees leave, silence is not golden



Almost 20 years ago, in one of the first "The Right Thing" ethics columns I wrote, I tackled the issue of how employers often fail to inform their employees when someone has been dismissed.

"You walk into the office, and as the day goes on you realize that the guy who sat in the cubicle next to you for years isn't there," I wrote. "It's not just that he hasn't come to work. There's no trace of him. The family pictures, the plants, the cartoons he liked to clip and post are simply gone. Office scuttlebutt has it that he has been dismissed. But there is no official word: no memo, no department email."

At the time I observed that while there might be reasons for employers not disclosing why an employee has been let go (an employee's privacy, fear of wrong termination suits), not saying anything his disappearance can create a "climate of fear" in a setting where the bosses don't level with the staff.

A few weeks ago, a reader, H.D., wrote to report that a similar situation occurred in her office.

After returning from a week's vacation, H.D. noticed that a long-time colleague wasn't at the weekly staff meeting. As the week went on, she noticed that the colleague wasn't in her office or anywhere around the office.

Figuring that the colleague might be on vacation, H.D. let it pass. But as two more weeks went by and there was no sign of her, H.D. asked another colleague if she knew if the missing colleague was OK.

"I think she's on some sort of leave," the colleague told H.D. But she didn't know anything else. Neither did any of the other colleagues.

Finally, at a subsequent weekly staff meeting, H.D. asked their supervisor whether the colleague was indeed on leave and if she'd be returning.

"She won't be coming back," was the supervisor's response. The discussion was redirected to other issues.

"No one knows if she's been fired or quit or has health issues or something else," writes H.D. "Because there have been layoffs in the recent past, we're all kind of on edge not having been told what's going on. Shouldn't the supervisor have said something?"

When layoffs occur, typically employees are notified. So H.D. knows it's unlikely the colleague did no leave due to a layoff. Still, the practice of not telling employees when a colleague leaves the company seems a poor choice.

While maintaining a current or former employee's privacy is important, letting employees know that a colleague is no longer with the company seems hardly to violate any privacy. The employees ultimately gather as much when the colleague no longer shows up to work. But leaving the departure unsaid leaves employees to worry, gossip, perhaps think the worst, and wonder if they might be next.

The right thing for an employer to do is to let employees know when someone has left the company. Partly, doing so helps to quash any fear or gossip making the rounds. But more importantly, it can serve to reassure the remaining employees that they are still valued and that their employer thinks enough of them not to leave them in the dark. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Talking Politics Over Turkey

For those wrestling with how to have a civil discussion over a holiday meal, a discussion with HKS PolicyCast