Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

Summary:Email has been around in one format or another for nearly 50 years, but by the looks of recent news headlines, we might have another 50 to go before we master it. Here's what to do if you're the next one sending the right email to the wrong group of people.

This would have gotten you in less trouble.
Email has been around in one format or another for nearly 50 years, yet by the looks of recent news headlines, we might have another 50 to go before we master it.

Although it hasn't been officially announced, Carat, a New York media agency, is planning a major restructuring of its U.S. operations, including an undetermined number of layoffs. So how do we know about this? Is it because we have a finely-tuned ear to the workings of the New York media world? Of course not. By way of AdAge.com, we learned that the agency's top New York-based HR executive emailed this information to the entire agency.

Accidentally.

The email, intended only for senior managers, was, "a rare, uncomfortable look into the preparations for employee layoffs" in which "management informed its rank and file of forthcoming layoffs and other changes in Microsoft PowerPoint and Word documents full of 'message' points on how people should be told of their fate and what should be said to their still-employed colleagues, clients and vendors," explained AdAge.

I bet you already know who was called up to do whatever it could to yank the email out of circulation: the IT department. Of course.

Astoundingly, email flubs like this still occur on a near-daily basis in workplace as overeager or rushed workers press the send button before carefully checking their work. Realistically, they're going to continue to occur until someone invents a program that beeps and blinks "Are you sure you mean to send that to the CEO?" before letting someone send. And probably even then.

So what happens if you're the next one to embarrass yourself?

1. Recall

"Depending on the sensitivity of the e-mail sending a recall would be my first line of defense," says Corky Gardiner, a HR consultant in the D.C. area.

Casey Manning, a SF-based IT recruiter notes that many email clients (such as Exchanger Server 2000 and above) allow for message recall, "the fastest and most professional way to quickly recover from the mistake of sending an email to the entire company."

Employees who hadn't open the message yet will never see it. "This of course is only good if the person has not opened it," notes Gardiner.

2. Consider whether it is worth following-up

While Manning suggests that one "immediately send a follow-up apology email or request that the previous email be disregarded," the risk is involving people who might not have viewed the email before the recall in the first place, thereby rendering the recall nearly ineffective in preventing embarrassment. (I'd imagine if it suggested a particularly juicy email, the next response would be "I missed it! I want to see! Can someone forward it to me?")

Others warn against sending a chaser email.

"I have had people try to recall and then send out additional e-mails and this just adds to the confusion," said Gardiner.

3. Ignore it and hope for the best

Manning says the best way to handle the gaffe is to not fan the flames at all. "Depending on the subject, most people hate receiving more emails than they normally do as it clutters their inbox. The last thing some employees want (especially managers, and those with very full inboxes) is apologies flying back and forth across the company, email threads being started, flame wars generated, by and email that should have not been sent in the first place."

This might be especially good advice if the entire company has already read the email, and there's nothing you can do to change it. "The only way to put a positive spin on it is to let it go and take the 'heat.'"

... Which, no doubt, Carat's HR executive has been doing for the last seven days.

Topics: Collaboration

About

Deb Perelman is a journalist in New York City with a focus on tech and the daily grind. Previously she was a reporter for eWEEK, leading the magazine and Web site's coverage of the issue and trends that affect IT workers.

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