Thursday, July 28

Keeping Communication In Check

I recenty read a story written by Amy Crane that reminded me most Americans don't realize that their right to privacy does not extend into the workplace.

In fact, she pointed out that according to the 2005 Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance Survey, conducted by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute, monitoring employees electronically is a growing part of the way American companies do business. The institute's survey, released in May 2005, noted that 76 percent of employers monitor workers' Web connections, while 50 percent store and monitor employees' computer files.

That's not all. Many companies go beyond keyboard keystroke monitoring, reviewing and storing employee e-mails and instant messages, monitoring time spent on the phone (or taping conversations). Video surveillance, drug testing,
and satellite technology that monitors use of company cars, cell phones and pagers are all becoming part of the mix.

While the invasion continues to move into other areas, company computer use is still the primary concern. According to the survey, 26 percent of employers have fired workers for workplace offenses related to the Internet and 25 percent of employers have fired employees for misuse of e-mail. While many employers monitor employees' Web surfing, a slightly smaller number - 65 percent of those surveyed - actually use software to block workers' access to inappropriate Web sites.

It's not all about productivity, employees who spend too much time online surfing, attending to personal business, or e-mailing friends. It's also about workers disclosing trade secrets or proprietary information over the Internet. And in some cases, employers have cause to worry.

When I recently conducted a blog workshop, I reminded a room full of communication managers that private conversations in the workplace with co-workers, vendors, or customers are a thing of the past. With the popularity of blogs, for example, anyone can be a journalist of sorts and share any experiences or comments with an audience as large as they're willing to capture.

I also added that it seems to me the real challenge is not really about employers and employees. It's about people. While some might scoff at the idea that they are being monitored at work, they feel perfectly justified in making private conversations public, recording personal chat logs and e-mails, positioning video monitors around and about their homes, and purchasing publications that reveal every dirty detail of someone's life if they happen to come into the public eye. In short, the enemy eroding our right to privacy is not a conspiracy constructed by faceless corporations and companies. On the contrary, companies are nothing more than a collection of people, which means the conspirators against privacy are us.

Good, bad, or indifferent, there are are simple solutions to avoiding serious problems. As an employee, be more sensitive to your company's privacy policies, avoid activities that violate them, and always be careful about with whom you share company information online and over the phone. For employers, even though the law does not require it, it's common sense to let employees know when, where, and how they might be monitored (about 80-89 percent of employers do). Otherwise, your company could inadvertently denigrate morale and trust in the workplace.

Of course, you don't have to have a company to be an employer. At home, you might consider extending the same courtesy to your babysitter, lawn care professional, and home improvement specialist. They're people too.

Thursday, July 14

Running For The Right Reasons

Somewhere in between fighting off a summer cold and keeping pace with our company's out-of-market growth, last week I took time out to have breakfast with longtime friend and legislative representative State Senator Bob Beers. I've known Bob for some time. He was the second candidate that now retired campaign guru Benay Stout recruited us to work with in 1998.

Since that first campaign, which resulted in Bob's election to the Nevada Legislature in 1999, I've played varying roles in every Beers race. The most notable, perhaps, was last year's run for the state senate against longtime incumbent Ray Rawson. Often working without a title, we used to joke that most volunteers considered me either the lead strategic director or resident patsy, which would depend largely on the outcome of the race. Beers won with a respectable 8-point margin, 56-44.

What struck me most about the senate race was that Bob Beers never planned to run. On the contrary, he was compelled to. Senate District 6 residents were disenfranchised with their representative after the unnecessary $833 million tax hike in 2003. Bob, who was serving an assemblyman for District 4 at the time, was one of the few legislative representatives willing to put his own political career on the line and be labeled an 'obstructionist' because he was willing to work tirelessly to dispel the popular doomsday message that Nevada was in trouble without the tax increase. Nowadays, most Nevadans know better. They only need to look at the size of the state surplus to summarize that those taxes were not so necessary after all.

Today is no different. Although openly admitting that they made a mistake and have placed too much tax burden on the backs of Nevada families, the popular position among many legislators is to allow government to grow at a rate two and one-half times faster than the state population. Maybe it's because I'm reading David McCullough's bestselling book "1776," but there seems to be a connection to our country's history and state's current events.

In 1776, Americans were considered to have the best quality of life in the world. They had nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields. The English parliament, somewhat disgruntled that their constituents might be able to attain a class reserved for noblemen and their associates, thought to levy tax after tax on the colonies to keep them in check. (Case in point: some members of parliament proposed repealing all those colonial fees and taxes because they knew they were unnecessary.) Some would argue that the same state of affairs exists in Nevada. Many people consider Nevadans to have nicer houses, more opportunities, and bigger fruit tree fields than the rest of the country. Thus, as citizens, the popular view among some in Carson City is that we should not complain so much about the ever-increasing taxes imposed on us.

Right. Most people don't mind taxes provided they are collected to improve our overall quality of life. However, there is a line between taxes levied to improve quality of life and taxes levied that impede your pursuit of it. In Nevada, it seems clear that we have crossed that line. The tax dollars that have been collected seem to have added few tangible benefits.

This is also what struck me upon receiving the pre-announcement head's up that Bob Beers would make a run for governor. He never planned to run. On the contrary, he is compelled to. He knows, as most Nevadans know, that the current direction of our state government needs adjustment before the damage of fiscal irresponsibility cannot be reversed. It's also for this reason that I'll play a role in his race.

Of all the candidates that have surfaced so far, Bob Beers is running for the right reasons. He is running because he wants to preserve a state government that is for the people as opposed to one that is for a few politically correct members of what sometimes appears to be a modern parliament.
 

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