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

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.

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TOPICS: Collaboration
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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.

Topic: Collaboration

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16 comments
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  • lol

    lol. Hate to say it, but if something like say, a layoff gets out like this, you can bet that there's no way to retract it. Even if you [i]could[/i] do it (which you really can't - there's no "take back this message" function in most email clients), it would still go around the grapevine.
    CobraA1
  • RE: Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

    I question how "accidental" some of these e-mails are. I think sometimes people that don't want to tow the company line may be purposely sending these e-mails to everyone. I mean, I can see doing a reply to all, but accidently selecting the All Employees Distribution Group? No so easy to do.
    CraigReeds
  • There's a resume-builder for you! (NT)

    NT, dammit! Why would you try to read the interior message? Loser!
    heres_johnny
  • RE: Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

    Maybe we should build in a delay into email to give some time for the technically challenged to retract their miss-sent message!

    Incompetence is rampant!
    TurboFord
  • Send links to encrypted message servers instead

    Instead of sending sensitive information and
    attachments in the email, send a hyperlink which
    requires a password and/or a smartcard to login. If
    that email gets inadvertently sent out to the wrong
    group, no worries, they can't login to see the
    information. There are 3rd party SaaS vendors that
    provide this service. IT departments have to protect
    the (l)users from themselves and their propensity to
    make silly mistakes (send emails to all, delete files,
    install malware, or upgrade to iTunes, version 8).
    deckhopper@...
  • RE: Not Whoops!

    The problem is upper management believe they are above schooling and think that computers are solely the property of IT. The truth is that the content of an email is the sole responsibility of the one sending the email.

    The job of IT is to make sure the email goes through, they have zero responsibility for the content.

    Until CEO's learn this simple fact, their companies bottom line will be affected by the ignorance of the companies executives.
    shanedr
    • Precisely

      Our CEO came to me a couple of weeks ago demanding that I "unsend" a message he had accidentally sent to a customer. I almost bit through my lip when he let slip that he had sent this message more than 24 hours earlier and that he was "pretty sure" they had already read it. I wanted to ask him if he was authorizing me to put a hit out on the guy but he ran away too quickly.
      d.esposito@...
  • Start by spelling it right.

    E-mail.
    dgurney
    • e-?mail

      I don't think the great god Lexicus has yet delivered the stone tablet revealing the One True Spelling of the word.
      Henrik Moller
  • RE: Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

    Many have yet to understand the gravity of what they write. It will not go away! Everyone needs to consider carefully the impact of every email before hitting the send button. No matter how rushed one might be.A few moments could mean a career.
    lupgaru
  • RE: Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

    Deb ??? great article and good insights. The viral and permanent nature of e-mail makes it an incredibly powerful and dangerous tool. Mistakes happen though, even when folks are being careful. I think mistakes like this should be addressed, whether an immediate reply is sufficient or a more formal, thought-out response is necessary. In any work situation, mistakes should never be ignored or swept under the rug where they can grow. There are always consequences, but it???s better to face them and work to rectify a situation before it???s too late.

    Deckhopper ??? That???s a good suggestion; thanks for sharing!
    dthompson@...
  • The higher up....

    It seems like the higher up one goes on the ladder, the less they know how to use technology. Except they know they needed the latest and greatest while their employees who NEED it are left w/ outdated junk
    t0mmyt@...
  • Interesting...

    The truth is, everyone has most likely slipped one time or another and sent an email that they wish they hadn't. In my opinion, recalling an email only makes people want to read it more and half the time it is already too late. Accept the mistake and depending on the severity- decide on what action is needed.
    LeslyB
  • Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered Math yet

    According to the reference cited by the author, the first instance of something vaguely resembling email occurred in 1965 or 43 years ago - not "nearly 50 years". A more accurate generalization would have been "more than 40 years ago". Hyping the number up to 50 years adds nothing but disinformation to the article.
    rpcohen
  • Just wondering

    ... if the exec who sent the wider-than-intended-distribution email also got the axe.
    l_g_johnson@...
  • RE: Whoops! Apparently, we haven't mastered email yet.

    Very interesting article. But one way to prevent mistakes like that is the use of a confirmation reply:

    > Are you sure to send this e-mail to ALL EMPLOYEES LIST?

    Can be ALL CLIENTS LIST! No matter how IT is involved on content of messages, this confirmation strategy is a must have, and this way can be subject to a conduct code.
    green alien