A Life Lesson On Work Emails

This is not a political post; I don’t write those – although I have lots to say on the topic. It’s a common sense post. How is it possible that anyone today still think his or her emails are private? I’m sure I’m outing myself as to how old I am, but those of us who started in the workforce before the invention of email know firsthand how quickly an email you never meant to send can ruin your day. And we also know – or should – that there’s no such thing as a fully deleted (or fully private) email. I was constantly reminded this fact by IT professionals all the time.

Listen, we all make mistakes as it relates to emails, whether in sending or composing. I once had a boss, who in an effort to help her daughter sell more Girl Scout cookies inadvertently sent an email to her entire address book. She didn’t realize it until she started getting emails from all over the country saying they would take two boxes of Thin Mints. While embarrassing, at least she didn’t say anything nasty or that she wished she could take back.

How is it Possible Anyone Still Thinks His or Her Emails are PrivateI, on the other hand, was not so lucky, until I figured how to fix it – and quickly. I was in New York City (before moving here) for a business event and had to check my email. This was before the days of smart phones or free Wi-Fi in hotels (or anywhere), and your only option was a dial-up modem (with the only phone jack under the bed) at about $5 or more a minute. The connection was so slow that when you were finished with your Internet session, it cost more than the hotel room.

So there I was at a trendy Internet café checking my email and noticed one of my team members back home had royally screwed something up for a client that I had to deal with immediately. Instead of giving myself opportunity to truly review the situation and figure it out, I got trigger-happy and forwarded the email to my coworker with a very unprofessional comment. Once I hit send I realized it didn’t go to my coworker but actually went to the team member. I didn’t hit forward – I hit reply. Yep, worst day ever.

As I stood in the middle of the Internet café freaking out and wondering where I’d be getting a new job, and how I was ever going to explain this snafu away, I came up with a very devious plan. I called the office admin and asked where the team member in question was and whether she was in her office on her computer or not. She said she was on her phone. I then instructed her to walk into her office and say we were having some email issues (truth; even though they were my email issues) and let her check her computer. I then instructed her to delete the email from her inbox and trash and then get it off our server. I actually ran the office so I did have a little authority for this scheme. This was not a proud moment for me – at all – but you can rest assure it never happened again.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. I realize I didn’t work for a political campaign or organization but if I hadn’t “fixed” it I may have caused just as much damage as we’re seeing today from the latest Email-gate scandal. If we can learn anything from this it’s to remember there’s no such thing as private emails and to think before we put anything nasty in writing, especially over email. Just like when you’re getting ready to do something questionable or that others might find offensive, here’s a good litmus test: if you were sober would you still do or say the same thing? The same applies to your words.

Feel free to share some of your email horror stories, if you dare.

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