This year has, so far, seen a couple of email scandals hit the headlines. On 16th April, Sony Pictures suffered yet another email disaster when Wikileaks republished all the emails from the now infamous Sony hack and placed them all into a searchable database. Then, there’s the ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which has now become more noteworthy given the news that she will be running for US President in 2016. It seems that many people still haven’t learnt that email can get them in serious trouble if they use it foolishly.
It is a common misconception that email is a disposable communication tool. We write an email, we send an email and we forget about it. However, email is not private. You probably won’t get found out if you say something stupid, offensive or personal, but if you do, you could be humiliated on a global scale like Sony’s Amy Pascal was and get sacked. Also, emails sent years ago can come back to haunt you, especially considering the rapid adoption of email archiving. You need to think of email as being a permanent record that cannot be deleted and can be forwarded around the world in seconds.
When it comes to work emails, you should NEVER discuss your personal life, criticize fellow employees, bad mouth your competitors or send any confidential information. You might know who you are sending it to, but you don’t know who else it might be forwarded to or who else might intercept it. If you’re going to talk about something that is not approved by your company, use a private email client like Gmail or Outlook.com. It won’t protect you completely, but it is better than using your work email.
If you’re thinking of sending out a joke that could be considered edgy or downright offensive, just don’t. Everyone has different sensibilities and what might be funny to you could really upset someone else. You can’t convey proper human emotions in an email after all.
Email also carries with it a certain level of legality. If you’re sent an email that says you’ve failed or let someone down, don’t send a reply to defend yourself. Even if it feels like the right thing to do, once there is a written record criticizing what you have done, you put yourself into a weaker negotiating position. The ideal way to handle this is to either say nothing or write a quick response saying that you will look into the matter as soon as you can.
Aside from all the serious trouble that email can get you into, it is also not the best tool for all corporate communications. How many times have you been added to long threads of emails when it would have been easier to just use internal social media platforms or instant messaging services like Skype for Business (formerly Microsoft Lync)? Sending emails to the entire company saying you like swimming just makes you look odd and never CC people unnecessarily into email chains as you’ll flood their inboxes.
There’s also email etiquette to consider. If you can physically see the person you are planning to email, talk to them face-to-face. You will get a much better level of interaction. Similarly, if you’re going to thank someone, it means a lot less if you do electronically. If you really mean it, send them something like a box of chocolates or a card.
Finally, even though there are various things you should avoid doing when it comes to email, there’s something to be said for taking the time to write a really good email. If it’s important, work on the tone and sound like you care. If you treat email like a letter, you’ll get much better feedback from your recipients.