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Personal Stuff on Your Work Computer

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Quick pop quiz!  Do you know:  

  • How much personal info you have on your work computer at this moment?
  • What would happen to it should you leave your employer?

As a career transition counsellor, I hear that the thing that freaks people most (after being told their role has been declared redundant and then walked to the front door) is having access to their work computer frozen and/or having all personal info deleted.

I’ve seen a wide range of stuff:  personal e-mails (a week’s worth up to many year’s worth!), photos (children, pets, vacations);  address books;  banking and bill info;  on-line dating exchanges;  job applications…to other employers;  visits to racy (non-work related!) sites…not much surprises me any more.    

It’s worth another look at your employer’s HR policy manual and/or Employee Handbook re:  this issue.  An employer’s main concern is anything that might prove harmful to the company’s technology (e.g. viruses, braches of confidentiality, etc.).  Generally bosses are willing to accommodate reasonable (i.e. moderate) personal use if you’re a high performer.  If you haven’t been productive, your boss is likely to be far less supportive.  Bottom line, if your personal data is on a company  computer, it becomes the company’s property.  

On ounce of prevention:  If, on occasion, you must use the computer computer for personal work:

  • Access your personal e-mail through a browser or your personal smart phone
  • Access personal files through cloud technology
  • Save your info on a USB flashdrive and take it home each night
  • Delete personal e-mails, clear your browser’s history, delete any personal files from your hard drive and empty your trash bin 
  • As an aside:  also check your
    • Facebook (have you slagged the boss in your personal time?) 
    • Linked In (have you represented your role, responsibilities, scope, autonomy and accountability truthfully?) 
    • Desk drawers (have you hoarded caches of tape, pens, etc.)?

An after the fact solution:  If you’ve been let go, negotiate with your boss.  You’ll be emotional, having been given notice, so remember:  it’s not what you say but how you say it!  Ask if:

  • You can download your personal info when you return to collect your personal effects;  don’t take it personally if the boss asks to sit with you while you do so 
  • The boss would be willing to download specific files;  have a list ready of what you need and want 

In either case, provide your own USB;  don’t expect the employer to do so.  And don’t:

  • Get defensive;  you want to negotiate a win-win solution without burning any bridges;  who knows if and when you might return to this employer…or need a reference?
  • Offer to trade your info for any company documents you may have at home;  it’s all the company’s property
  • Forget that any materials you developed while employed becomes the the property of your employer unless your Employment Contract clearly states otherwise;  check the details of any Confidentiality and/or Non-Compete Agreements you signed during Orientation as they almost always are in effect beyond separation 

Bottom line:  if it were your own business and work computers, what would your expectations of staff be?