USING EMAIL AT WORK FOR NON-WORK PURPOSES
QUESTION 75: USING EMAIL AT WORK FOR NON-WORK PURPOSES
Corporate policy where I work is that e-mail should be used only
for company purposes. However, I believe that most people in the
company, including the executives, use e-mail for non-work related
purposes. Can I use e-mail from my place of work, for example,
to get articles on Torah subjects?
The minhag hamakom (the accepted practices of a place) - the
fact that everyone does something - is a compelling factor in
evaluating these situations. If everyone does it, it's a siman
(indication) that the practice is acceptable.
On the other hand, everyone knows that any deviation from a given
set of rules will eventually get out of hand. Things don't remain
static. What everybody does today is going to increase into what
everybody does tomorrow, and keep on increasing.
Whatever a person does that is according to the "common practice",
but is not according to the written rules, should be minimized.
Do 20% or 30% less than what everybody considers standard. If
everyone does something that is not strictly according to the rules,
soon things will get out of hand, and that will lead to a strong
reaction from the company's management. Soon enough they will see
that it does interfere with the work. They will see people fooling
around with their computer and doing all kinds of questionable things.
How does one know what "everybody is doing"? First of all, you might
be fooling yourself. Even if you're not fooling yourself, you might
just be hanging around with the people who happen to do it, and that
group may be a minority.
This point is well taken. People do tend to fool themselves and say,
"everyone does it." In most cases when people say, "everyone does it,"
it's not true. People look for some justification or rationalization,
that what they're doing is acceptable. And it's usually not so.
Everyone doesn't do it.
In Enron, what even the executives were doing turned out to be illegal.
So there the minhag hamakom was to bend the rules, and to do things
that are really not honest, so there the rationale that "everybody is
doing it" - "even the executives are doing it" - wouldn't hold water.
So how do you factor that into the equation?
In Enron there was a climate in which nothing was considered wrong.
The fact that "everyone did it" - involving averas (wrong actions)
being done by the entire executive culture - makes things much worse.
Enron was stealing from their customers, they were giving false reports,
they were covering up for themselves. They were auditing their own
corrupt people and saying everything was fine (which is beyond belief
-- that the government could allow people to audit themselves).
Here we're dealing with a different story. It's a question of using
a small amount of company time to get messages or e-mail. Employers
generally don't really mind if a small amount of this is done. It
makes people happy, and the company doesn't suffer on that account.
But if there is a lot of time-wasting, the company does suffer. If
it remains at a very small amount of activity, it is acceptable. But
eventually a small amount may turn into a large amount.
The reason why the rules do not permit the use of company time on
such activities is based on a truth that is borne out by experience:
If I would tell you that you can use no more than 15 minutes of your
own to surf the Web during the day, it will start from there and will
end up at 5 hours. Such things just never stand still.
So you're saying that there's a reason to say that the rules are not
meant to be taken literally - that the rules are stated in the extreme
so that people will clamp down on their activity to some extent. But
that the rules are not to be taken literally in cases like this.
I think so. But even a small amount of use could get out of hand, and
it's quite possible that, imperceptibly, misuse can drift to a harmful
So it really comes down to somehow drawing the line. There are several
lines here. There is the extreme line of the written policy. There is
the line of what's acceptable. And there's the line of what's not
That's why you should lessen what you accept for yourself as permissible.
You should take a deep cut in what appears to you to be the acceptable
behavior in the office.
Say to yourself: "I'm going to do less than what I perceive to be
common practice. I'm going to restrain myself from doing what everybody
seems to be doing". That attitude will protect one from fooling himself
as others do. People often think "everyone" else does it, when "everyone"
really doesn't. And they think that people do much more than they
actually do. And then they do even a little bit more than they think
other people are doing. Thus, everyone watches each other, and they
always look for the person who's doing the most, and then they do a
little more than that. That's a slow deterioration process.
But if you clamp down, and make sure that you're doing no more than,
let's say, half of what is considered to be normal, then you'll be
watching and giving yourself a little protective zehirus (watchfulness).
A person who watches himself and intentionally does less - and tells
himself from time to time no, no, no - can be sure that he'll be reasonable
in the amount of liberties taken and work done. Following the crowd is
not always the best way.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 76: DOWNLOADING AND COPYING MUSIC
I argue with people about the ethics of downloaded music files from
the Internet. I say that downloading songs or copying your own songs
to give to someone else, without a copyright owner's permission, or
not compensating the owner, is stealing. What do you say about this?
Participate in the Honesty Forum, and discuss the issues we confront in this class!
Subscribe to Honesty and receive this class via e-