The report was just sitting there, almost under your nose. OK, so it was on the boss’s desk and you were sitting a few feet away, but you have really good eyesight – and the ability to read upside down – so it wasn’t really your fault you read a co-worker’s recent performance evaluation, was it?
And it wasn’t really snooping when you were looking for a pencil in a colleague’s desk and came across her pay stub – your eyes just accidentally happened to focus on how much she makes a month.
But chances are if someone took a peek at your performance evaluation or looked at your paycheck without your permission, you would probably be a little angry or upset. While we all delight in having the lives of celebrities exposed in all their demented ways, it’s not nearly so enjoyable when our private information is exposed to those at work.
And here’s another consideration: Some companies have strict policies on what employees may or may not discuss, and blabbing that you know what someone else earns or revealing confidential details of a co-worker’s performance evaluation could cause the boss to take disciplinary action against you.
So, while it’s true that it makes the workplace more enjoyable when we’re all friendly with one another and perhaps share some personal information, the key is to remember that we all deserve dignity and privacy, and that should temper our actions. Some ways to do that include:
1. Locking your desk. This also includes your files during lunch or at the end of the day, or when you’re going to be away for a certain amount of time, such as in a meeting. Don’t keep personal information – such as your pay stubs or health information – at work. Take them home and file in a secure cabinet.
2. Using a paper shredder at work. Avoid putting confidential information into a recycling bin if it has not been shredded first. Personally shred your own information and don’t rely on someone else to do it.
3. Reading carefully. When receiving internal mail, always make sure your name is on the front before opening, even if it was hand-delivered to you. NEVER peek inside an envelope to someone else, and NEVER snoop in someone else's e-mail.
4. Standing firm. Unless you receive a supervisor’s permission, do not allow anyone to have access to information that you consider confidential.
5. Resist being too friendly. When attending a company function, ask your significant other not to reveal too many personal details about you. It’s one thing for your husband to tell them you love fishing – another to reveal that you’re about to default on your mortgage. At the same time, don’t try and corner the boss’s partner to try and find out the inside scoop on the manager. That’s unfair and unprofessional.