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Feeling Deflated Over Text Messages at Work?

By Jim Swartz

Thanks to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, workplace text messages are back in the spotlight. The Super Bowl champions’ protestations of innocence have been deflated by a series of text messages between two equipment managers and their star quarterback. Like many employees at most companies, the staffers and Brady exchanged text messages filled with inside jokes, vague instructions, and discussions that are now subject to multiple interpretations. All of this threatens to put the Patriots’ starting quarterback on the sidelines for the first four games of next year. Can we learn any lessons from this latest text mess?

Pros:

  • Texting is ubiquitous. For many people, texting has overtaken telephone calls and emails as their primary method of communication.
  • Texting can be a highly efficient way to determine an employee’s whereabouts or obtain a yes/no response to a simple question, such as “Are you coming to this meeting?” or “Are you dialing into this conference call?”
  • Texting can be a useful way to inform colleagues that you have provided them with information or materials that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, the utility of singling out an urgent email from among hundreds that the recipient may have received that day: “I sent you the budget via email. Check your email.”

Cons:

  • Texting provides little room for providing context (ask Tom Brady about this one).
  • Texting tends to be far more informal than email or in-person communication; employees can drift into inappropriate language or other improper conversations in the relaxed medium.
  • Texting may encourage off-the-clock work if sent to non-exempt employees during non-working hours.
  • Texting can hamper productivity by forcing employees to check multiple message systems for work-related information (email, voicemail, text messages).

Employers should incorporate a specific discussion of text messaging in their employment policies and training. Topics that should be addressed include: application of harassment and discrimination policies to text messages, expectations (or lack thereof) of privacy on employer-owned devices, prohibiting the use of text messages to send confidential information, and basic text messaging etiquette for business communications. Through these proactive measures, employers can avoid the headaches caused by careless, confusing, or misleading texting by their employees.