Most of us have been guilty of it a time or two: Trying to get a peek at the confidential files on the boss’s desk, or perhaps gossiping with a trusted co-worker about another employee’s performance problems.
And while this may seem harmless -- you’re just keeping up on what’s going on after all -- it points out that the workplace needs some confidentiality guidelines. Think of it this way: Would you like it if someone were trying to get a glimpse of your last performance evaluation, or was dishing the latest dirt about your spat with a manager?
Chances are it would make you uncomfortable, and probably a little angry. While we may like to see every detail of a person’s life exposed on daily talk shows or on YouTube, it’s another matter when it’s our lives being discussed.
At the same time, you need to realize that talking about co-workers and bosses in an unprofessional way can find you in legal hot water depending on what position you hold in a company, what information you are discussing and with whom. Workers have been fired for everything from discussing salaries to gossiping about romantic relationships.
Now, there's no reason to be paranoid and think you can't shoot the breeze a bit at work. Just keep in mind that everyone deserves dignity and privacy -- and that should temper your actions and what you discuss.
With that in mind, here are some ways to improve confidentiality for all of us in the workplace:
1. During conference calls, make sure each person is identified before beginning a conversation. Ask that if anyone joins in later they be immediately identified.
2. Do not discuss your salary or anyone else’s unless it’s part of your collective bargaining agreement.
3. When making a phone call, clearly identify who is on the other end before speaking, and always identify yourself, even if you are calling a familiar number.
4. Do not attempt to get the boss’s spouse alone at the next office party and gain information. In fact, don’t talk company business with a spouse or significant other of an employee or manager.
5. If you’re discussing company business, always be aware of who is around you and who could overhear. Don’t let anyone sneak up behind you -- you might even go so far as to never sit with your back to the door when in conference or a private conversation.
6. Lock your desk and 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. Take precautions to protect your computer information by keeping your password in your head -- not written down somewhere. Follow company procedures regarding removing laptops from the premises, and don't think those rules apply to everyone but you.
7. Use a paper shredder, and avoid putting confidential information into the recycling bin if it has not been shredded first.
8. When receiving internal mail, always make sure your name is on the front before opening, even if it was hand-delivered to you.
9. Unless you receive a supervisor’s permission, do not allow anyone to have access to information that you consider confidential.
10. Resist discussing a co-worker’s troubles (personal or professional) with another employee, even if you do it out of “concern.”