Are You Careful Enough About E-mail?

I adore e-mail and couldn’t live without it, but at least once a week I hear a terrible story about a generally good person and employee who turned the weapon of Microsoft Outlook on himself – and fired.

Just the other day, an HR manager told me about a junior level employee who decided to use e-mail to disseminate widespread criticism about a new brand name a senior executive had picked out and announced himself.  Our impulsive friend even cc’d the president for good measure.  As you can imagine, this was the last e-mail he sent at that company.

Though I know you would never do anything like this, I feel compelled to post some smart e-mail usage tips:

  • Realize that e-mail is not private.  Not only can your company’s IT department access it, but you never know who your messages might be forwarded to – accidentally or intentionally.
  • Craft friendly, polite and grammatically correct messages.  Since you can’t rely on voice or nonverbal cues, always re-read your e-mails to make sure the message you are sending is idiot proof.
  • E-mails should be kept short and to the point.  Make sure to include an informative and specific subject line. Put your key message up front, and if the information you must communicate is longer than 2-3 paragraphs, attach a word document with the relevant details.
  • Don’t use e-mail as a forum to express displeasure or criticize.  Do these things in-person rather than taking the easy way out.  If you must highlight a problem in e-mail, be positive and solution-oriented.
  • Carbon copy (cc) your boss only on messages that clearly demonstrate that you are doing your job.  Avoid sending him thousands of e-mails unless you want him to stop reading them.
  • Before hitting reply, carefully read an e-mail in its entirety, and if it’s preceded by a series of messages, read and understand the whole string first.
  • If you want to send personal e-mails at work, set up a separate account.  Don’t send those annoying forwards to your colleagues.
Tagged as , career tips, , , , technology.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a current contributor for Fortune and Metro US, Alexandra has authored several books, including the bestselling They Don't Teach Corporate in College, How'd You Score That Gig?, Success for Hire, MillennialTweet, and New Job, New You. Her book on the top myths of business success is due out from Penguin/Berkley in the fall of 2011. Since serving as a member of Business Roundtable's Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration on current workplace issues, Alexandra produced the critically acclaimed JobSTART 101 (, a free online course that better prepares college students and graduates for the challenges of the workplace. She is a frequent national media spokesperson and has been featured in thousands of outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, ABC News, Fox News, CNBC, the Associated Press, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. In 2010, she was named Money Magazine's Online Career Expert of the Year and the author of one of Forbes' best websites for women. Known as one of the premiere spokespeople of her generation, Alexandra regularly speaks at conferences, universities, and corporations around the world including the American Society for Training and Development, Campbell's Soup, McDonalds, and Whirlpool — on issues facing modern employees such as how to communicate effectively between generations.

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