With the considerable attention given to corporate e-mail policies in recent months, how do we as support techs deal with end users who think the policies are unclear, unfair, or draconian? Here are some ways to help end users understand the necessity and importance of e-mail policies.

Protect against potential lawsuits
In this litigious age, no company can afford to be sued over an electronic, offhand remark. In fact, there are no offhand remarks when it comes to e-mail. Casual quips become a matter of permanent record with the click of a mouse. In no time at all, thousands of copies of that “offhand remark” can be stored on hard disks around the world. Explain to end users that when they send a message to five colleagues, those individuals could each send it on to five more and so on.

That sick joke about somebody dying may pop up in front of someone who has recently lost a family member. If that person makes an official complaint (and they have every right to), you have very little defense against a disciplinary hearing. That’s how easy it is—a casual click of the mouse, a momentary lapse of judgment—and you may find yourself in big trouble. If the company doesn’t take a firm stance on e-mail abuse, the liability passes to them. When you use your company’s e-mail system, the company’s reputation is on the line.

Prevent unnecessary e-mail outages
Remind your end users how frustrated they are when the e-mail system goes down. Explain to them how messages sent to hundreds or even tens of people can slow and even crash an e-mail server. While the new digital image of their child playing may seem harmless, a 1-MB TIF sent to 50 people can really slow things down. Such activity is a serious waste of company resources.

Offer alternatives
Tell end users that personal e-mail should be sent using private mail accounts that they can easily set up. My company uses Microsoft Outlook via our LAN. I also have a copy of Outlook Express installed, and I connect, again through the LAN, to the various personal accounts I use. This setup allows me to be in touch with all my correspondents throughout the working day. I can also keep an eye on my home e-mail account by using the excellent Web site mail2web.com.

Encourage your end users to set up a personal e-mail account to avoid potential problems with the company mail server.

Jokes can cause serious problems
I enjoy a joke as much as the next person. A good laugh can lift a dull day and build bonds with fellow workers. When that fun impinges on the company, affects reputations, and becomes offensive, however, it’s time to knock it off. Failing to respect the limits set by your employer can and has, in the past, led to a parting of the ways.

So often, in this era of high-speed communications, we forget to use the more traditional methods. Remind your end users that the next time they hear a good joke, they should share it with their colleagues when they meet at the water cooler.

What’s your take

How does your help desk handle e-mail abusers? What’s your organization’s policy? What’s your personal opinion? Do you agree with Jeff’s suggestions? Post a comment or write to Jeff Dray and let your voice be heard.