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Why Separating Work and Personal Email Makes Sense

separating work & personal email

No matter what your politics, you can’t argue with the fact that Hillary Clinton is a pretty bright person.

Wellesley and Yale educated. Partner in a law firm. A United States Senator. A Secretary of State. And of course, those high profile years as First Lady.

You gotta appreciate that someone can learn a lot from all that, no matter what your politics. (And I now invite you to forget said politics for the remainder of this article, which has nothing to do them and will not even attempt influence your political views one way or another, since that’s not what we do here . . . )

But once upon a time in American history, Mrs. Clinton admitted to a habit that will sound familiar to many of you, especially those in large corporate environments whose organizations provide smartphone devices and pay the service bills.

She mingled her work and personal email.

“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” she said.

And I said “yikes.”

Why Separating Work and Personal Email Makes Sense

For years, as part of the “click less and connect more” strategies I shared in my book, I’ve been advising corporate professionals to keep a separate device and account just for your personal use. And like the former Secretary of State, many of you have resisted.

Here are the excuses you’ve used to keep doing what you’re doing:

  • It’s too hard to juggle which account or device is which, so I’ll just use my work phone.
  • I’m not doing anything on a personal level that I’d be embarrassed for my employer to know, so it doesn’t matter.
  • I’m on my work email all the time anyway, so why should I have a personal email, too?

So many of us have succumbed to a one-device life.

But let Mrs. Clinton’s lesson, now part of the historical record, be one you can gain from, too. Here’s why you want to invest in your own, separate, personal smartphone to keep your work email and your personal email separate.

1. It’s about your privacy

Okay, you’re not hiding state secrets or fudging the revenue numbers from your biggest client. It’s likely The New York Times will probably never subpoena your email and those of all the people you’ve ever communicated with.

But someday, you might want to entertain a conversation about a career move from that recruiter, competitor, or vendor. Or you may have a car or house for sale, or find you need to engage a professional like a lawyer, accountant, personal chef or bail bondsman.

In most cases, your company can legally read your email.You've got email--keep it separate

And texts.

And know where you’re surfing the internet. And who you’re calling on the phone.

Hopefully, you already knew this. But if you weren’t acting as if you knew it, now is the time to wake up.

Why does your company care about your emails to cousin Annabelle asking about her bunion surgery? It’s all an attempt to limit legal liability for any possible (or interpreted) boneheaded actions which, when they happen on company property (physical like a parking lot or virtual like a Blackberry) can get them into hot water along.

Not to mention that you’ll boil, too.

You may not be doing anything stupid, but your work email may infer you are. Or connect you to someone else doing something stupid.

According to legal library

  • Some company email systems automatically copy all messages that pass through them;
  • Some create backup copies of new messages as they arrive; and
  • Some employers  use “keylogger” software to keep copies of draft email messages that you never sent. So even the messages you created abandoned, or deleted immediately, can still be found.

What’s more, NoLo cites that almost every court that has had to consider email privacy claims have found against the employee, in favor of the employer’s right to monitor, regardless of its policies. (This stat is pretty amazing, since the courts have leaned in favor of employees during discrimination and other workplace rights suits.)

Yes, we live in a world where our online privacy is increasingly limited. But you don’t want to be the dork who uses PASSWORD as their passsword (seriously, dude, change it now) and you don’t want to make it easier for your work emails to get accessed in a time of crisis. Get your own personal device and email.

It’s about your time.

Are you making this email mistake?
When are you sneaking a peek–and find the hours flying by? Don’ t miss the important stuff like David did.

Here’s the story David told me about when he broke down and purchased his own personal smartphone to supplement his work-provided Blackberry.

I had this period when I worked like crazy. I love my job, and it was all good, but busy. Finally, I had a weekend when I could switch my mind off work and be with my family.

So I’m at the ball field with my son, and we have a small rain delay, and I’m huddled in a corner waiting for the clouds to clear. My wife texts me a quick request–I don’t know, something to pick up later–and once my fingers hit my phone, I figured, ‘what the heck, let me clean out a few emails while I’m waiting.

When I looked up, the game had restarted and was already in the fifth inning. I’d missed most of it, because I got sucked into the work email that was on my phone. Later, my son asks what I thought of his stolen base during the third inning, and I lied and said his form was great. But I didn’t see it.

Honestly, I don’t know how many things I’ve missed because I didn’t realize how much time I lost checking work email when I wanted to be present in my personal life. I bought my own smartphone the next day.”

David learned the hard way that it was time to click less and connect more. (If you’d like more ideas, download my free tip sheet here.)

It’s about taking control.

The thing is, we aren’t using our smartphones just for calls and email anymore. We’re using them for our entertainment, our social life, our shopping, our fitness, our financial management,  our career growth . . . the list goes on.

Why would we cede control of any of those things to anyone other than ourselves? You can take control of your career

Don’t kid yourself. Even the best, most respected companies can go up in flames in an instant (testify, my Arthur Andersen alumni).

And even trusted, well-run companies can decide to downsize quickly, notifying you that today is the day you can drop your device off with HR on your way out the door. (Yes, it still happens.) Good luck backing up your contacts and important emails in 20 minutes or less—if it hasn’t already been deactivated.

Sure, it’s another expense when you’re trying to be fiscally smart. (Check and see if your organization has negotiated a discount with their key service partners like Verizon. You can use these even on a completely personal purchase.)

Yes, it might feel like a hassle, for a while.

But what’s your peace of mind worth? Just ask Mrs. Clinton.

YOUR TURN: Do you keep your work and personal devices separate? If so, what helped you to decide? Or if you haven’t, why do you resist? Tell us in the comments below.

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2 responses to “Why Separating Work and Personal Email Makes Sense”

  1. Hello,
    I have a separate phone for work and personal however the company are asking us to amalgamate the 2 onto our own devices as our IT department won’t be supporting Blackberry’s!! I’d appreciate any suggestions for a Business Case that I can put forward stating that I won’t amalgamate and they should provide me with another device?
    Thank you.

    • Hi, and thanks for writing. Do I understand that your company is moving to a “BYOD” (bring your own device) approach? Some companies are doing that to make the most of the technology many of us already have in our pockets. It also lessens the IT responsibility for managing a device.

      If that’s the case, is one of your devices completely personal –paid for by you, not used for work email or other work tools? If it is, you should keep this one separate –no reason for the company to even know you have this device. It’s personal. If you’ve blurred the lines, this is a good time to clean that up–remove the feed from your work email, or even change the number.

      If the company is paying for both and yet you want to keep the two devices separate, you’ll need to start paying for one or even better, give one back and start over with a new personal device. Don’t ask them to pay for both. I believe there are risks with having your only smartphone device owned and paid for by your company, as I outlined in the article above. In the big picture, it’s worth the money. But it’s a choice you’ll need to make for you.

      If I have the picture wrong, write me and clarify. The company’s business case is that the BYOD program allows you more flexibility and them less internal time/effort/cost managing devices. The responsibility shifts to you, and because of that, most companies doing this have a monthly stipend or some other way to help defer the cost. If your company doesn’t, this is something you can ask for (or submit the bill as an expense–as long as you can prove it’s completely business and not personal.)

      Keep me posted–good luck and thanks for sharing!