my boss is snooping through my email

First, apologies for the ongoing issues with accessing my site for the second day in a row today. My web host has been letting me down in a big way, and I’m likely to be changing to a new service. Moving on…

A reader writes:

I have a supervisor who has taken it upon herself to go into my work email and send our main manager emails that she feels are a problem without my knowledge.

Example: When a bid goes out of my office, it is the duty of the person bidding to copy me on the email so I may find out how long the material required is going to take to ship. Pretty simple, right? Well, it didn’t happen and I found out from another employee. I processed the request and sent it to our main manager and cc’d the supervisor as a FYI since we just talked about it in last week’s meeting. Well, I received an email right back that he already knew about it because my supervisor had forwarded out of my email minutes before and didn’t even tell me!

I find it very odd that she is randomly in my emails and seemingly snooping for potential problems that I have a record of bringing to management’s attention when they arise. I always keep in good communication with my supervisor and manager on work-related issues and there would be no need for her to be snooping around emails. And this definitely is not the only “strike” against this woman on the weird management tactics. How would you approach this issue with her?

Someone looking through your emails to find problems is someone who doesn’t trust you to do your job properly, right or wrongly. (Wrongly in this case, it sounds like. But of course even if she had legitimate reason to worry about your work, this is far from the right way to handle it.)

As is almost always the case, the solution is to be straightforward. Say this to her: “Jane, you’ve been going into my email to look for problems, which signals to me that you have concerns that I’m not handling things correctly. Can we talk about your concerns and what you’d like to see me doing differently?”

One of two things will happen:

1. She’ll tell you about concerns she has, which you may not have known about. In this case, listen to her feedback with an open mind, no matter how ridiculous it is that she handled it this way.

2. She’ll tell you she doesn’t have any concerns and she’s just checking up without any particular impetus. In this case, say, “I’d love to feel that you trust me to do my job without looking through my email. Is there another way we could ensure that you have the peace of mind that you need that everything’s being handled? Is there a different kind of communication you’d like from me?”  She probably won’t have any suggestions, but this may be enough to shame her into backing off.  But if it doesn’t, and the snooping continues, you can always bring it up again when it happens next time — depending on how much this bothers you and how much you want to push it. (“Jane, I noticed you were in my email again and I’m confused about what you’re looking for in there.”)

She may never stop the behavior, and ultimately you can’t make her. But you can at least bring the issue to the surface and see if that curtails it.

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