For the last week and a half or so, I have been locked out of my company email. If I spend time emailing and calling the help desk, they can eventually get me back in for a few hours before I get locked out again.

So far it hasn't been so bad since, during those times that I got back in, I have been able to read my emails and apologize to everyone for responding so late.

Ultimately, my concern is that this is unsustainable in the long term. I can't spend an hour every morning just to log in to view my emails.

What is the proper course of action here?

Is it ever acceptable to ditch the company email and use a personal email account for work?


Thanks everyone for your responses!

I haven't gotten back into my email account yet, but in my last two calls with the email help desk, it seems that the problem is with an HR system where for some reason, that system keeps sending a signal to deactivate my email account.

The email help desk didn't want to contact HR themselves, but they gave me an email address and phone number for the HR help desk. The HR help desk still hasn't answered my calls or responded to my emails.

I got through to the HR help desk last night, and the response I got was that the issue is related to our records in a different system that they don't manage. They provided me with email contact information for two people that they believe could help. Waiting on a reply... [Still no response will try emailing again soon]

Found a different email help desk and are working with them now. They see the block in the system, and are requesting manager's approval to remove the block. We'll see if they are able to fix the problem themselves or if they also send us to HR.

[I've also noticed that this question was put on hold. I realize that email policy is company-specific, but I feel like I'm stuck in a catch-22 here where policy says to use the company email, but I don't have any way of doing that. I was hoping my question could address how to best solve this type of problem since my efforts haven't been very effective, and also in the meantime whether it is better to err on the side of caution and remain unreachable or be bold and take matters into my own hands.]

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    What does the help desk say? The surely realize this is inacceptable. If not, what does your manager say? It's your manager's job to remove obstacles that prevent you from working. – sleske Aug 15 '16 at 7:20
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    So is there a company-wide problem with email? Then it is still your manager's job to decide how to best handle that. Also, why "manager's approval"? The helpdesk should not need your manager's approval to fix your email. – sleske Aug 15 '16 at 7:23
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    Really your responsibility is to tell your IT guys that this keeps happening and they need to fix it. But as a spot of technical advice, I see this happen relatively regularly with users who have recently changed passwords, because they have a phone or laptop or something configured as a client which continues trying to connect with the old password, resulting in a fairly rapid lockout due to password failures. You may get somewhere by making sure this doesn't apply to you. – Carcer Aug 15 '16 at 9:05
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    Something doesn't seem right here. Either your front-line support department is completely incompetent, or there is more to the story. Resolving account lockout issues is an IT Support 101 topic, with checking logs and finding root causes being the last question on the final exam. They should be able to identify the reason for the lockout on their screen, and they should be able to identify the events that caused it in their logs. open the ticket with the proper title. The problem is you're REPEATEDLY and CONSISTENTLY locked out. Don't let them close the ticket until you're satisfied. – Kent A. Aug 15 '16 at 12:31
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    Is it ever acceptable to ditch the company email and use a personal email account for work? No, never, and don't be silly. This could easily be seen as malicious intent to steal clients. What if you switch jobs and you are still receiving emails from your previous work. How do you think this would look to clients if they are now communicating with someone @gmail instead of @xyz If something ever went to court then your personal email would be fair game for a rectal probing. Your company has a policy on length of time which emails should be stored even if you "delete" them from your inbox. – MonkeyZeus Aug 15 '16 at 14:09

As an addition to Kilisi's short and excellent answer:

Is it ever acceptable to ditch the company email and use a personal email account for work purposes?

This, again, is not your decision to make. The answer is the same: Ask your manager.

As a matter of fact, proposing this to your manager as a possible solution is a good idea, because managers (like most people) like it if people think for themselves and try to come up with solutions. However, do not actually go through with this without your manager's approval. There may be regulations that forbid it, for example.

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    In the short term it might be good to set an out-of-office message to inform people who email you that you are having technical problems and that they are being worked on and that you might be slow in responding. Just in case. – Chris Aug 15 '16 at 12:34
  • The out of office notice is the best idea. If OP is determined to use a different account, then it would be better to propose opening a gmail (or other) account for this purpose, rather than proposing the use of a personal account. Using a personal is just a bad idea, every time, for many reasons. – Kent A. Aug 16 '16 at 4:50
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    I agree with the auto-reply, and add from experience that adding each new ticket number to the reply after each access restoration may speed response by raising visibility to whomever can clear the blockage. At a previous employer I had a few colleagues who encountered a similar lockout cycle with the VPN. Eventually to eliminate the appearance of a contributing cause being between the chair and keyboard, eventually their managers were calling the IT desk. The lockout issue was technical, but the repetition was procedural. After 20-40 tickets each, it flagged to a higher and different team. – newcoder Aug 17 '16 at 11:29

This is your managers problem, not yours. You are covered so long as you inform your manager. Just carry on with what you are doing.

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    I kind of disagree here. Yes, tell your manager, but it is your email with your work. You should really take point on getting this resolved asap. – David says Reinstate Monica Aug 15 '16 at 13:22
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    @DavidGrinberg There's only so much one can do, at some point the issue needs to escalated up through the management chain – DLS3141 Aug 15 '16 at 17:01
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    @jimm101 I'd rather hire someone who does their job. Toilets blocked, call the janitor, trouble liaising with support, call your manager. OP tried and failed, management was informed, now it's their problem. Manager can't handle his role, start eyeing up his job. – Kilisi Aug 16 '16 at 12:38
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    I'd prefer someone who can find another toilet so he's not sitting in his own filth while his manager finds an alternative. But maybe that's just me. – jimm101 Aug 16 '16 at 13:13
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    My comment on sleske's answer is from experience where manager involvement was a key element of resolution. If I'm blocked on project A because of project B, and that team says repeatedly they've delivered, going to my manager so they can facilitate my productivity at levels beyond my role's reach is taking responsibility. Leaving management out after trying the channels available to me would be "sitting in my own filth." I may not be able to get cleared to use a private email, but my manager may be able to get that clearance faster in parallel with pushing IT. – newcoder Aug 17 '16 at 11:39

Just two additional tips that haven't been covered:

1) If your help desk uses a numbered ticketing system, insist that they re-open the former ticket each time (same ticket number). Many internal and most external teams derive compensation based on how long tickets are opened. Padding a handful of quick email resets drives the bonus up; a month-long ticket for any reason can drive the bonus to $0. You'll get attention.

2) Your account can be become locked because somebody is attempting to log in as you and failing. This can happen when they make the mistake the first time, save it in their browser autocomplete, and then allow it to fail every time they start. This is particularly common when a separate failed-password screen is loaded, allowing the browser to use a different autocomplete on the retry. The Help Desk will know that the account is locked, and switching your handle--as ridiculous as that is--solves the problem.

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    I like your first idea a lot. I was never offered a ticket number for the main help desk I spoke with, but it would probably be a good idea to get one. I know they have a record of their calls with me, but I have a feeling that they are opening tickets when I call and closing them the first instant I get access back or they've transferred me to a different help desk. If I can make it look like a bigger problem in their system, I bet it will get more attention. – martin Aug 15 '16 at 12:23

Escalate. The situation is absolutely unacceptable. Using private e-mail sets you up for so much trouble:

  • You might violate current company policy
  • You might violate future company policy
  • You may violate laws (regarding confidentiality or record keeping)
  • You will be held responsible for any failure with your private e-mail, such as:
    • An important email landing in your spam filter
    • Your email landing in someone else's spam filter
  • You will still need a company email for some current or future company tools

When escalating and nothing happens, raise the escalation level quickly. Also make sure the escalation to your direct manager is done in writing, and is repeated regularly as long as it isn't fixed - you can do this in writing by mentioning it in a meeting and making sure it's in the meeting notes, or by sending an email from your private address. Escalation to higher levels can start by casually mentioning the issue to your boss's boss while running into him/her at the coffee machine.

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  • I like the idea of escalating this, but in my case, it would be pretty difficult to make it work. My boss's boss lives in a different city, and she is pretty high-level management. Even if I did write her an email about this, I don't know how much she could do since the company emails are run globally and aren't actually under her. – martin Aug 15 '16 at 12:10
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    @martin emails don't needs to be under her. The head of support is much more likely to act based on her call than on yours. And if she finds the situation as ridiculous as I do, she might even get her own boss involved. – Peter Aug 15 '16 at 12:22
  • @martin Since she's in another city, your best shot is probably to ask your boss to involve her, if your boss can't resolve it. – Peter Aug 15 '16 at 12:23
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    Actually, since my last comment, my boss cc'd me on an email where he mentioned the issue to his boss and a few other C-suite level people. They probably won't do anything directly, but at least they know. – martin Aug 15 '16 at 12:29

What is the proper course of action here?

To refer to your manager and explain to them what the problem is. You've already contacted IT, so they are aware of the issue.

Your manager may or may not tell you to use another mail account, or they may tell you to make another mail account on a free mail provider until this is resolved.

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The answer is to submit a written ticket by whatever method your company has while your email is working. Provide dates and a detailed explanation. Explain what you have done on your end. You are not asking them to unlock the account, you want them to determine the problem and a implement a solution.

An even better answer is to have your manager and any other coworkers having the same problem also submit tickets.

In many companies the first line of people you contact at the help desk fix immediate problems, they are not expected to provide research or long term fixes. You will need the IT department to look into why the lockout occurred. What IP address actually was the cause, and when did the lockout happen. We had a case where somebody added a real email address to the daily penetration testing suite, so the user was locked out every morning. Only when they did the research could they determine the cause.

It is your managers problem to put pressure on them to fix it, so make sure they know the ticket number so they can put the pressure on IT to solve it.

You don't want to use a non-work account. It makes it hard to merge the information flow back to the official accounts. It also mixes work and non-work methods to communicate with you. The company needs to make fixing the email issues a priority.

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This was a comment but on the fourth comment field I decided to just make it an answer.

You asked if you should use your personal email. The answer is almost certainly no. Even if it is allowed that is not a line you really want to cross. Once you start down that path you may find it impossible to separate them out later. There is also the fact that many companies would fire with cause, with out warning, if they catch you doing this. Some allow you to use personal email, but if they don't it's usually a sever fireable offence, and depending on position may be followed with legal action.

Now to the question you didn't really ask:

This to me sounds like a user error. Take care in dealing with IT on this. As someone that did IT there would always be "those users" that can't use a computer. They would be added to a "low priority" list when their ticket came up, cause "you can't fix stupid". Make sure you clearly state the problem, and ask for help. State what you have done, and let them try to track down the issue. If it happens after every reboot, reboot while they are there.

Remember you need their help to get it working, but you don't want to become "ugg, martin, again, when is he going to learn to use outlook, no you deal with it this time. Every time I go over there, it's the same story, they messed it up, but they whine at me for 30 mins and and push the button, it works fine, and we repeat tomorrow." Persistent issues suck for every one, just remember that

Keep in mind that as IT people, they HAVE to deal with the issue, and they HAVE to deal with people that don't know how to use a computer at all, and they HAVE to meet metrics, and they rarely have all the tools they need to address the issue. But generally speaking, if you become too annoying, they can add your ticket to the bottom of the list by making it "needs looking into" or such. If they decide to bury it, you will have one heck of an uphill battle. So play nice. Most IT people actually want to help.

I mention that because a lot of the comments seem hostile towards the IT staff, and again, as someone has done that position, a lot of end users think we wake a magic wand and make everything better, but 9 times out of 10, IT just tries to help and it's a user issue that creates a problem in the first place.

@carcer has the right idea (would be my guess). But I can't stress enough to work WITH IT and not against them. Stay away from hostile conversations and really try to work with them. Ask them to give you a list of things you can do to try to resolve the situation. Because the result (the lockout) is reproducible, ask of they will meet you at your desk in the morning and show you what they think is causing the issue.

I can't stress this enough. A lot of times, the only thing IT staff would need to do is look at a log, or setting, or something really simple to get to the bottom of the issue, but as people, don't really want to go though that minimal effort because the user is blaming them for every thing or being outright hostile. So they do the technically required thing, close the ticket, and the situation is not resolved.

An example

User My email is broken again. You Need to fix it. I can't have this down time. My time is important. You need to come over now and address this. I can't not be able to talk to my clients. This happens every day. Why can't you fix it.

IT Uncheck the lockout box, close ticket. Send email. Should be fixed, let me know if it happens again.

A better way

User I have had a problem every morning for the last several days. It's really impacting my work. When I log in in the morning, my email account is locked out. I'm not sure what is causing it, but I would like to get this addressed. How do you suggest we proceed?

IT Uncheck lockout box, look at log, "hold" ticket. Send email. I fixed this for today, the logs say its a bad password attempt from a cell. Can you change the password on your cell as well. I will take a look tomorrow morning to see if it happens again. If you need anything else let me know.

Again my point is don't let the comments talk you into being hostile, work with IT, not against them. Issues like these suck all the way around and can be tricky to resolve.

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  • Your "better way" is too garbled to understand. Most client email systems can't read the servers logs either. – Joshua Aug 15 '16 at 16:15
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    @Joshua, evidence to the contrary I swear I can type. (IT people can read logs server side, or put in a request to have them looked at) – coteyr Aug 15 '16 at 16:57

Have you recently changed your password? If so, the answer is to check all your devices and update your password. This behavior will occur if a policy is set that too many failed login attempts result in a locked account. If one of your devices isn't updated it will try to connect with the wrong credentials. Depending on the time interval between mailchecks your account will be locked within a few minutes or within a few hours.

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  • it doesn't look like the case here because asker contacted help desk and they didn't indicate this as a problem: "If I spend time emailing and calling the help desk, they can eventually get me back in for a few hours before I get locked out again". See How to Answer: "Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative..." – gnat Aug 15 '16 at 13:16
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    It seems to me they are trying to fix the symptom, rather than the problem. 99/100 a locked account is caused by connecting with wrong credentials. I have read the question carefully. The quote you give doesn't indicate that the help desk rules out the possiblity that this is caused by entering wrong credentials. – Arjan Aug 15 '16 at 14:08
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    @gnat Any answer requires a theory of why it is happening. Help desk failing to provide an explanation does not mean there is no reason for it happening, it means OP's help desk is not competent enough to figure it out. – Random832 Aug 15 '16 at 14:08
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    @gnat It's entirely possible that their HelpDesk tech is just unlocking the account without further investigating the issue. – user30031 Aug 15 '16 at 15:22

Often, if you get a password wrong too many times, you'll be locked out of your account. But when attackers do this, everybody trying to access the account gets locked out, including you.

Tell (or, shall I say, "kindly suggest") to IT (or someone who can contact IT) to change their system.

You could also suggest capturing the attacker's IP and stopping them once and for all...

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