my manager tracks us all with Google Alerts — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

My team manager has set up Google Alerts for every one on her team, so that she receives notifications whenever our names appear in the news. She uses the alerts to then post messages on our team’s internal group chat, things like “Break a leg to Jorge, whose improv team has a show coming up in Milwaukee!” or “Congrats to Linda for being selected as a finalist in this local baking competition.”

There’s a complicating factor in that our team’s work is somewhat in the public eye in our industry, meaning there’s a high likelihood one of us is in the news at any given time for something we’ve worked on, driven by our company’s PR. So to some degree, it makes sense she’d want to keep track of your team’s professional, PR related accomplishments — we have whole channels and boards internally, dedicated to highlighting those kinds of items. That said, our PR team does a roundup of our news items, so she could keep track of those without needing to set up her own alerts. Or she could ask us to share them with her!

The announcement posts she’s doing about our personal lives are relatively benign, and I’m pretty sure she asks the individual if she can share, before posting. I suspect she’s thinking of this as a way of building rapport, and helping us bring our “whole selves” to work. But something about using Google to track our personal accomplishments feels…squicky to me. Artificial? Like its being used as a shortcut to building a warm relationship with us. I know she could just Google any of us at any time but what if I was in the news because I was in a terrible accident? What if I got a divorce, or a relative died, or what if I was, say, arrested for protesting in alignment with my political views? I’m not sure I want her to be notified of incidents that might not be things I’d choose to share.

I guess my question is: is this weird? Or is it something we should all just accept in today’s digital world? And if I wanted to ask her to remove the alert for my name, do you have suggestions for scripting I could use?

Yeah, it’s weird. Not necessarily that she has the alerts set up — that part could make sense given the type of work you do. (And she might prefer to be able to see your work-related coverage immediately rather than waiting for your PR team’s round-up, which might not be comprehensive or as fast.) But if she’s using those alerts to report on people’s non-work stuff without their permission, it does feel pretty invasive.

However, you said you think she does get each person’s permission to share the items. If that’s the case, then I think it’s more that it just feels weird rather than it being actionable in any concrete way. It feels weird because it’s odd to know that your manager gets an alert every time your name appears on the internet! That’s a level of keeping tabs that would cross most people’s boundaries, even though in this case there’s a work justification for it. And obviously, info about you on the internet is there for the taking for anyone who bothers to search for it … but that’s different than knowing that everything the internet records about you is delivered into your boss’s inbox within a day or so of it appearing.

It would feel less weird if she were ignoring the non-work items she sees. But she’s not; she’s publicizing them. And so that contributes to a feeling of being monitored, which is uncomfortable!

I don’t share your sense of it being a shortcut to building warm relationships (although there may more about how she operates that make you feel that way). But it does feel like a lot of monitoring.

As for whether you could ask her to stop, it depends on why she gets the alerts in the first place. If she gets them to track work coverage … no. But if you’re not sure that’s the reason, you could say, “Did you set up the Google Alerts on everyone to track coverage of our projects in case the PR round-up misses something?” My guess is that she’ll say yes. But if she says no, and she just likes knowing what you all are up to both inside and outside of work, it would be reasonable to say, “I know it’s all out there anyway, but I’d rather not have my non-work stuff tracked like that. Would you mind not doing one for me and just letting me tell you about any non-work accomplishments that I want to share?”

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