15

Recently i sent a very personal email with a list of grievances to my boss. The start of the mail was a request not to forward that mail to anyone.

My boss has not yet responded to the contents of the mail, although he acknowledged receiving it.

But I learned by chance that he did forward the mail, despite my request, to one of my coworkers involved in the whole situation. I am not sure, but suspect he may have forwarded it to others as well. I find it impossible to simply accept this breach of confidence.

How do I deal with this sort of situation professionally?

I am not talking about legal recourse, i am just at a loss on how to respond to this in an appropriate manner.

My boss is the only boss in our small company, and there is no HR department. We do not really have any other supervisors.

How can I adequately deal with this situation (besides resigning on the spot, which is an option I am considering)?

  • 19
    As far as not happening again. Don't email a list of grievances. – paparazzo May 20 '15 at 21:05
  • 2
    Duh, yeah :) The mail was precedenced with several attempts to resolve the issues via phone that lead to nowhere thought, and i am currently off-site, so email seemed like the only way to go at that time. – Zem May 20 '15 at 21:10
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    As far as dealing with it now: you can make a stink, get your boss in trouble with HR, and make him as angry at you as you are at him. That goes nowhere good. Or you can let it go, get the current situation dealt with, and then -- after everyone has calmed down again -- have a quiet, low-key talk with him about your having heard a rumor that he shared the note and you'd like to know if that's true and if so why. – keshlam May 20 '15 at 21:26
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    If you did explicitly state that the e-mail should remain private look for a new job. Any company that enables you to have a list of grievances and then breaks trust like that isn't one that I'd want to work with, and I suspect, you don't really want to either. – zfrisch May 20 '15 at 21:58
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    Your boss has, almost irretrievably, lost your confidence. Email should be generally treated as private, even if it can be forwarded. Email that is explicitly marked as confidential is, perhaps, strictly legal to forward, but I see no reason why your boss should ever expect your trust again. I'm not sure how your boss should proceed now (ideally an apology and amends, but doesn't sound like we're working with that moral caliber). I'm not sure how to move forward on the situation or what you can do, but you are right to see an extreme breach of trust, and respond to it as a big deal. – Christos Hayward Sep 20 '15 at 21:04
28

Proceed as if there were no breach in confidence. You can request that your boss not forward your email, but receipt of email is not a contract, and your boss is under no obligation to honor your request.

The number one rule of email (and probably anything written down as well) is that you must only write things that you want the entire world to see, because that is a potential side-effect (see Sony Pictures Entertainment).

Do not quit on the spot. You will have no leverage when looking for another job. Start looking for another job immediately so that you have options if the time comes to resign.

Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your issues, but try to be diplomatic, and try to understand things from your boss' point of view.

  • 4
    I second the last paragraph about the meeting. Be REALLY diplomatic, but ask him why he did that. Make clear that you see it as a breach of trust. – jwsc May 21 '15 at 13:47
  • @jwsc agreed, though I would not dwell too much on the trust issue, given that it will put the OP's boss on the defensive. More with honey than vinegar and all that... – mcknz May 22 '15 at 20:56
  • I agree with this answer in practice, however this company is very poorly managed, confidential emails should be respected, it improves morale, and the breach is an unethical act by the boss. – daaxix Sep 20 '15 at 5:44
  • @daaxix if the boss had agreed in advance not to share the email, then you could argue the action was unethical. Since this email was unsolicited, the most I would argue here is bad taste on poor judgement on behalf of the boss. Agree that it wasn't the best move. – mcknz Sep 23 '15 at 2:25
5

Your purpose in sending the email was to cause some change to occur. You will need to gauge whether the sharing of your grievances with others has helped start the changes you want, or whether it's making matters worse. If matters are getting worse, I recommend dusting off your resume and looking for other opportunities.

If it looks like the desired changes might be on the horizon, be glad your boss took the action he thought would be the most effective. Company emails are company property, and as the sole boss in a small company (he's probably the owner), he probably has the right to do what he wants with the data, so long as there are not local laws in place governing certain topics of information.

In general, email is the absolute worst way to deal with frustrations. If voice to voice meetings don't help the problem, then a face to face meeting is the best way to go. As always, if that doesn't work, then it's time for serious reflection: Are you (part of) the problem? If so, what can you do to make things better? If not, and there's no remedy at all, find a new job.

3

I am surprised and disagree that the other answers do not take the relationship and the personal nature of the mail more into account. While I cannot give an answer to your questions, I'm writing this reply to point this fact out in more detail, because I consider it extremely important.

A work relationship is not intimate, you don't have to be friends with your boss and you don't need to trust him with your house key. However, to enable any healthy and productive kind of environment, you need a basic level of trust.

  • He trusts you to e.g. do you job (somewhere around) to the best of your abilities and to not be a spy for a competitor (etc.).
  • You trust him to not e.g. give you life-threatening tasks or share very personal details with others (etc.).

If I put a request to keep a letter private to someone I have this basic trust relationship with, I expect it to be, in fact, private.

If the above fails to apply, then the environment is bad, and neither side can expect good results. This should be fairly obvious. So, in short, breach of trust is a severe issue, regardless of legal status.

As OP stated, he is working remotely and tried to resolve the problems earlier via phone, finally resorting to email. This can be considered proactive, not unreasonable, as long as you have in mind how your message could be interpreted if the situation were to escalate (court) and word it accordingly. Neither is it unreasonable to assume that basic privacy customs are adhered to, even though, or especially because, he's working remotely.

External influence (e.g. Sony hack) is and should not be accounted for in this regard. If we did that consequently, society would break down. It definitely must be addressed as an important general security issue, but it should have no influence on my decision what to write in an email - unless it is indeed highly confidential, but then you would never write it in a mail anyway, but hand it over personally, probably in non-digital form.

  • 2
    By now he either has a new job or resolved the issue. Your answer basically states:"You should be upset." Yeah, well, he is upset. This doesn't solve anything now though. The question is "How to deal with it?" - not "Is this okay?" So you actually don't provide an answer at all. – John Hammond Sep 19 '15 at 11:20
  • @LarsFriedrich I feel the accepted answer does not consider the issues I talked about sufficiently, and that this needed to be pointed out. It was clearly too much for a comment, and as it at least confirms side parts of the questions (is it justified to be upset?), I added it as an answer. I'm aware that it does not address a core part of the question (how to deal with it?), and I wish I could give a good answer. -- Regarding the several months since it was asked, I think that's not important, because others may be in the same situation in the future. – mafu Sep 19 '15 at 11:34
  • I was always told that you should send nothing in an email that could be held against the company (or against you) in court under the right (wrong) circumstances. – gnasher729 Sep 19 '15 at 14:42
  • @JoeStrazzere I believe his answer was good even though I disagree on that specific point, so I don't think a downvote is warranted. – mafu Sep 20 '15 at 15:30
  • @gnasher729 I don't know if you have seen the recent blog post blog.stackoverflow.com/2015/09/culture-of-trust, which argues a bit in the opposite direction. But since OP is already having major problems, you're sadly right, there. I will edit this into the text. – mafu Sep 20 '15 at 15:36
-4

It's time for you to apologise. Email is not an appropriate medium for venting off steam. You misused it. Let your boss and coworkers know that in doing so, you made a mistake, a mistake that happened out of your frustration with the situation at work, because you saw no other way to deal with it.

Ask them to accept your apologies and to help find a better way to discuss and resolve these difficulties that clearly cause so much tension on your part.

  • 1
    He sent his boss a list of grievances. They may well have been very important issues with the working atmosphere, or something else that the boss should know about. I see this as perfectly acceptable use of e-mail. – Peter Sep 20 '15 at 17:08
  • Sending a list of grievances is OK. Sending something you wouldn't want coworkers to read is questionable. – reinierpost Sep 20 '15 at 18:08

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