my coworker is cc’ing his mother on work correspondence

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A reader writes:

During a recent disagreement between my coworker and me, my coworker cc’d his mother on some emails going back and forth between me, him, and our board of directors.

In my last email to all of them, I asked why his mother was being cc’ed, and asked whether she was a consultant for our company. (I know she is not; I was making a point.) He replied, “I’ll cc my mom on any thing I like.”

Of course, he could copy and forward the emails to anyone, as could any of us. We don’t have any of those confidential or business-only type clarifications in the email signatures (the way schools and larger companies do); we are a very small business. This went back and forth between us a few times, and I sent this to the board:

“I would like the BoD to officially note Bob’s behavior in cc’ing his mother in these emails, and his response below saying, ‘I’ll include my mother in whatever I choose! You need not worry about my correspondence with my mother! Don’t mention her again.’

My question to you all: Is it permissible for company business-related emails to be shared with people who are not employees, agents, owners, or otherwise involved in these matters? In my experience, it goes against any general business practice to have a person who is not involved in the business in any way — not an employee, company agent, etc. — privy to business correspondence. I find that unethical at the most, and questionable in the least and would like my concerns noted and answered by the BoD. “

The board sent a reply more addressing the nature of confidentially and made allusion to this year’s political climate. This employee proceeded to send one or two more snarky emails where he said maybe I felt I could give them all legal advice because maybe I stayed in a “Holiday Inn Express” and that we could now all assume from here on out that he would be sharing all his emails with his mother and whomever he wanted.

I resisted any snarky comments myself about him emailing his mommy, but I am wondering if I should further pursue it. I’m disappointed that the board didn’t correct him. This is not the first problem we’ve had with him. The board seems weary with all the back and forth, as am I, yet I am loath to let him have the last word, particularly when it is inaccurate (I realize nothing is confidential, I am stressing professionalism) and then his rude dismissal of me.

I don’t want to negatively effect my relationship with the board.

I assume the cc’ing of his mother is a misguided intimidation technique — as in, he’s letting me/us know he’s keeping a record of the correspondence. Which makes no sense when you consider that our own emails are record enough if we needed them for any reason.

Background: I am the manager in training, set to take over and be his boss when my boss retires early next year. This employee and my boss have worked there for 10 years. My boss hired him, he refused to be managed by her (she’s a gentle, non-confrontational person) and sort of finagled himself into being a lateral equal to her, with previous board. The current board seems to recognize his issues, and seemed happy that I brought to the table a willingness to confront his troublesome behaviors and work ethics. It has recently been told to this employee that I’m going to be his boss starting in January, and he’s been difficult since, but I have absolutely called him on some bad behaviors and work ethics.

Your coworker sounds like a frickin’ disaster.

But you’re not currently this guy’s boss and you’ve noted your objections to the board, so for now you need to let this go.

However, the whole situation changes in January when you become his boss. At that point, you can make it very clear to him that he’s not to cc anyone outside the company unless there’s a clear business reason for doing so, and that cc’ing family members on work-related correspondence is prohibited. If he pushes back, you can say, “That’s not a negotiable policy. Are you able to abide by it?” If he’s not, you’ve got a serious case of insubordination on your hands and should fire him.

Frankly, it sounds like you’re going to have a serious case of insubordination on your hands anyway, even if he backs off on the email thing, so I’d go into this assuming you’re likely to have to fire him at some point anyway unless he seriously turns his behavior around.

All this means that you need to get very, very clear on what authority you’ll have when you take over in January. You’re not going to be able to manage him without the authority to let him go if you need to, so you need to make sure that the board or whoever else is above you is going to back you up if it comes to that. It they won’t, I’d seriously reconsider taking the promotion, because having someone work for you who doesn’t respect you, insults you (to the board!!), and openly asserts his right to do anything he wants (again, to the board!!) is going to torpedo your ability to be effective.

And really, this sounds like a huge mess, and I’m not just talking about your coworker. Somehow your company has created a culture where an employee is allowed to flagrant violate basic standards of professionalism (cc’ing his mom — what the actual F?) and respect (sending insulting emails to you in full view of the board). Now, maybe the board forwarded all of this to your coworker’s boss and said “obviously you need deal with this ASAP,” which you wouldn’t necessarily know about (although the thing they said about “this year’s political climate” is mystifying). But given everything else you describe, it sounds like this guy has been allowed to get away with bad behavior in the past … and people don’t usually escalate to this kind of incident right off the bat, so I suspect this has been going on for some time.

So at a minimum, there are some huge management problems, which you’ll be inheriting when you replace your boss next month.

But I also wonder if you’ve been a bit influenced by the culture there too, because you’re talking about getting in the last word and your own email to the board was a little snippy and defensive and, frankly, added to the drama.

I’d recommend treating the time period between now and when you take over next month as a reset — an opportunity to step back from all this drama, think about how things should run, think about what you want your dynamic with the board to be, and think about what actions you’ll need to take to make that happen, so that you don’t step into that new position mired in the past dysfunction, of which there appears to be plenty.

my coworker is cc’ing his mother on work correspondence was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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December 6, 2016 at 02:04AM

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