WWYD: A Former Co-Worker’s Private Correspondence

In this installment of WWYD, a former co-worker forgets to purge his personal correspondence before leaving a company:

Recently someone left the company where I work, and we inherited his work Gmail account and history, which has a lot of relevant information about ongoing projects. My coworker friend just realized that this person did not take ANY of his Gchats “off the record,” so all of that personal correspondence is in there.

I have the login info, and so does our whole department of about half a dozen people. My friend’s rationale is that if the departed coworker was stupid enough to leave all of this in the public record, the chats kind of deserve to be read.

It’s a pickle! The fact that there are virtually no consequences or stakes either way actually makes this much more nuanced for me. I’ll never see this person again, almost certainly. — C.

Attention office workers everywhere: Do not use your work email to send personal correspondence. Do not use your work account to have personal IM conversations. Use your personal accounts for personal matters. This is common sense, but let’s just get this reminder out now.

Now back to this pickle. So back when this coworker was still an employee, nobody had access to his email account except for him, right? So these Gchats were accessible only by him for a period of time until he handed over his account and, yes, foolishly forgot to purge his personal stuff from it. Now that other people have access to his account, do they deserve to be read? I don’t believe so. Will they be read anyway? Probably. Offices love gossip. I’m pretty sure by the time I post this WWYD, most of those private chats will have been read and talked about during sad desk lunch time.

We don’t have control over what our coworkers do, but we can make our own decisions, like not to read someone’s personal conversations when you know how upsetting it would be for you to discover that because you made a really dumb mistake, your former coworkers are now reading about your personal matters and gossiping about it. I know I’d be upset if that happened to me. Sure, this person may not know that this is what happening, but that doesn’t change the circumstances, or that because the grapevine is the grapevine, the gossip may find a way to travel back to him. How mortifying that would be.

Personally, I would choose to have no role in this. When would I do this kind of thing in other aspects of my life? I’m not the kind of person who reads someone’s journal because she accidentally left it out on the dining room table. I’m not the kind of person who snoops through all the drawers in someone’s house just because I’ve been given keys and a housesitting assignment. And so: I’m not the kind of person who would read a former coworker’s personal correspondence. Maybe that makes me boring, or no fun, but since this is a WWYD, that’s what I would choose to do. I hope those GChats are mostly conversations about what kind of sandwiches he was thinking about buying for lunch.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.




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