THE BLOG

Why Bosses Snooping on Our Emails Could Do Us All a Favour

16/01/2016 14:36 GMT | Updated 16/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Emails, Gchats, DMs, Facebook messages and all other forms of online communication are a sacred entity.

It's where we say things that can't be said out loud.

It's where we cross time zones and chat to the loved ones who are oceans away from us.

For the majority of us, it's where life happens.

This week a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) appeared to give work bosses the right to violate this sacredness.

The case was around a Romanian engineer, Bogdan Bărbulescu, who used Yahoo Messenger, set up for work purposes, to chat with his fiancée and brother.

According to his employers he had broken company rules by using the firm's equipment during working hours, to conduct private matters.

ECHR found the organisation had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, because "it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours."

The UK panicked. People argued the case was simply another moved towards increased surveillance - "an inherent feature of capitalism," one publication said.

It reasoned the ruling ignores the way people work today - the "24/7 always-on" culture, where the lines between work and play have become indistinguishable.

While I don't agree with mass surveillance and I do believe in the right to respect one's "private and family life," the outcry also got me thinking about why bosses snooping on our emails could be a good thing.

Thankfully, I work for a company that actively highlights the need for a healthy work/life balance.

Bosses are forever encouraging colleagues to try new ways (including banning phones from the bedroom) to keep work at work.

However, this is not always a priority for every employer and perhaps knowing that you're being watched is just another way to keep work at work.

Simply put (and this could be an oversimplification) if your company wants you to only message friends during downtime and bosses during working hours - perhaps that's not the end of the world?

Hear me right, I'm not saying employers should have a free pass to all the information you have stored on a work device.

Indeed, Ian Brownhill, a Barrister at No.5 Chambers and employment law expert said the ruling could have implications for employers too:

"Employers beware though, reading an employee's personal internal correspondence has implications under the Data Protection Act and depending on how you got by the password, perhaps even the criminal law."

However, Andrew Cutting, a Council of Europe spokesperson does make a valid point about how we should view the engineer's case.

Blogging on the Huffington Post he writes:

"Legislation has not been altered as a result of Tuesday's judgment, either in Romania or any of the 46 other Council of Europe member states, which include the UK.

"In short, not much has changed."

It could, he added, "help persuade workers and their bosses to clarify exactly where the boundaries lie concerning personal communications at work."

The boundaries he speaks of are different for each of us.

However, in age of instant everything, perhaps the ECHR's ruling serves as a good reminder for where work stops and play begins.