In a world that depends on e-mail, depend on this: The boss can see it all.
"If you want to read employees' e-mail, you can definitely do that," says Gary Steele, CEO of Proofpoint.
Steele should know: Proofpoint is in the business of helping bosses keep a close eye every time a worker hits the send button.
"Companies actively review, monitor and analyze the e-mail of their employees — with employees not even knowing that's the case," Steele says.
The monitoring may be done by a bunch of guys in your company's basement. But these days, more often it's sophisticated software that scans outgoing e-mail for everything from offensive language to trade secrets — and then alerts the boss.
One of those bosses is Christopher Faulkner, who admits he watches every e-mail and every move his workers make online at his company, CI Host.
"I don't want one of my employees having one ear to the receiver of the phone with one of my customers talking to him while he's chatting with his buddies on instant messenger, while my customer is getting second fiddle," Faulkner says.
A new survey shows that close to half (46.9 percent) of all companies with more than 1,000 employees now scrutinize e-mail and another 28 percent say they intend to do so soon.
That can be a shock for workers who think e-mail was private. Julie Blenkhorn was one of those workers.
"I learned my lesson the hard way. Basically, I sent an e-mail with a resume applying for a job through my work e-mail. And not more than a day later, I was called to my boss' office and asked about that e-mail," Blenkhorn says.
In the past year, nearly a third of companies (31.6 percent) say they have fired employees for improper e-mail use; more than half (52.4 percent) have disciplined workers for misusing e-mail.
Think you're safe at work if you're sending e-mail from your own private account, like Hotmail? You're not: Monitoring software is set up to catch anything sent from an office computer. Keeping a secret could mean going back to snail mail.