The high tech kill switch
Many employers already are protecting themselves, and using technology where possible to help. Companies can track and even block what files employees forward, print or copy, Segal and others say, to ensure that workers aren't making off with trade secrets, client lists and the like.
On the hardware side, companies can even disable devices remotely.
"Most companies that I know of that support smartphone use have enabled it with a feature that allows them to erase all data -- 'spike the phone' -- at their discretion, usually at termination," says Sean Ebner, regional vice president for Technisource, the IT services division for SFN Group Inc. "This means that the employee would lose pictures, contacts, emails, files, and so forth."
Some workers might find that draconian, but legal contracts like non-compete and non-solicitation agreements give companies the right to take such actions to protect their assets and interests, according to Segal and other experts.
That said, employers do recognize that the lines between personal and professional are blurred when gadgets are involved, and, as a result, many are trying to accommodate employees' needs when possible, Ebner says.
Allowing a departing worker to remove files from a company device, forward e-mails to a personal address or keep a cell phone number all depend on the way in which a person is separating from the organization. "If the firm feels threatened, very little flexibility is given. If the associate is leaving on great terms, flexibility is often the rule of the day," Ebner observes.
Here's your hat...
Norman Hollander, an IT worker based in Palms Springs, Calif., had a leave-taking that fell somewhere between those two extremes.
Hollander had worked for six years as a technology architect for CA Technologies, an IT management software company based in Islandia, NY, when he learned he would have to relocate to Pennsylvania -- a move he didn't want to make.
When he resigned, CA cut off his e-mail -- a typical practice in corporate America these days -- without allowing him to create a response that would direct people to a new account. His work laptop went right back to the company, too. Luckily, he had kept personal copies of contact data and other files backed up, and in addition, the company allowed him to remove other personal information from the machine. His BlackBerry was his own, so he didn't need to relinquish the smartphone.
Of course, the loss of corporate e-mail no longer leaves a person feeling completely cut off. He posted his new contact information on LinkedIn and Facebook (see Job hunting via social network) and had a colleague email co-workers a goodbye note with the contact data on his behalf.
Segal says it's best for employer and employee to be clear about what must stay and what can go.
For example, employers should have policies that require departing workers to remove all corporate information from their personal devices (some of Segal's clients actually require certification that this step gets done).
For their part, departing employees should be able to work with a company representative or third-party liaison to remove whatever personal material is on corporate devices.
Segal recommends the same level-headed approach when it comes to blogs and Twitter accounts. Ditto for contacts and information that employees acquire through professional activities.
"The best way to deal with it is to come out with reasonable policies in advance and then at time of termination be open. If there's not a clear legal answer, try to come up with a reasonable business solution, because the biggest problem I see is the lack of communication," he says.
Segal is not particularly optimistic every company can reach that goal. In fact, he expects the courts will eventually see lawsuits involving Facebook, Twitter and other tools that blur the lines between our professional and personal personas. That perhaps will be the truest sign that social media has become part of the corporate Zeitgeist.
Job hunting via social network
When Norman Hollander decided to leave his job at CA Technologies rather than move out of state, one of his first steps was to update his Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
He saw an immediate response.
"I got hundreds of e-mails asking where I was going and saying they had ideas on where I should look," he says, adding that he also leveraged his accounts with online professional groups to cultivate job leads.
Hollander says he was careful about what he posted, making sure his comments accurately reflected the goodwill that existed between him and his former colleagues at CA. In fact, he had co-workers and managers write recommendations to post on LinkedIn -- something that helped him in his job search, he says.
Now at IBM as a consulting IT specialist, Hollander says he has kept many of his former colleagues as LinkedIn contacts, thinking he could pay back all the help he received. At the same time, he realized that some contacts important for his old job wouldn't be as relevant moving forward.
Separately, he says, the job change felt like a good time to make a stricter delineation on Facebook between work-related contacts and personal ones. So he discreetly defriended some Facebook contacts who weren't really friends.
Hollander is on the right track, says John Reed, executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology of Menlo Park, Calif. As a professional, you should always be selective about your connections and resist the urge to connect digitally with every single co-worker you're leaving behind.
Reed recommends limiting your business network to those whose own professional sphere overlaps with yours -- either by industry or discipline. "As your career develops, the relevance of your network will change, and you want to keep your list of contacts relevant," he says.
Why not just keep the old contacts hanging around? You can be judged by the company you keep online. Do you really want to connect with past colleagues you barely know if you can't vouch for their work reputation? He says it's better to keep social acquaintances and friends, even work buddies, as Facebook friends rather than LinkedIn contacts.
Finally, reminds Sean Ebner, regional vice president for IT services provider Technisource, "It's best to leave an organization quietly and with everything positive. That post on Facebook saying 'It's a great day -- I just quit my job!' is going to hurt people's feelings." And possibly your reputation.
This story, "How to Leave a Job With Your Personal Tech Intact" was originally published by Computerworld.