About two months ago, accountant Bill Bride sent an e-mail to his wife, mentioning weekend plans for dinner and a movie and a Saturday-night hockey game.
He signed off with the smoochy xoxoxoxo sign and went about his business.
Only he didn’t send that e-mail to his wife. He sent it to everyone in his office.
When Dan started using e-mail years ago, he sent a message to a co-worker asking her on a “date” to a company event. Oops: He hit “reply to all” on a message she had sent to the entire sales group. For added drama, her boyfriend — whom Dan says he was not aware of — worked for the company.
One woman wrote to me about her friend, who accidentally e-mailed the entire company of 500 people about participating in an office betting pool (a company no-no). She also mentioned in that she would send the money using the inter-company mail system.
The technology department deleted the message from the server, but the woman was reprimanded for “gambling on company time” because it wasn’t deleted soon enough.
E-mail and instant-message goofs at work, as these examples show, can range from embarrassments to potentially career-altering mistakes.
It could be the rush and stress so many of us feel throughout the day. It’s easy to click wrong and hit “reply to all” by mistake, the way Dan did. Or as Bride did: His wife’s name starts with an E, so it was next to “Everyone” in his mailbox, which is how he made his mistake. Afterward, the technology folks at work showed him how to make a personal mailbox — something he especially appreciated after enough people commented the next week that they hoped he enjoyed the hockey game.
“People are getting vast amounts of e-mail, and they’re getting it quickly,” said Barbara M. LaRock, a career coach in Reston, Va. “They don’t take enough time to make sure it says what they want it to say or make sure it’s going to the right person.”
Someone had been e-mailing with a friend and said something unflattering about her boss. Of course, she sent this particular message to her boss. She wondered if she should dust off her resume. Again, the tech folks came to the rescue and deleted the e-mail from the boss’ computer. But she learned her lesson, on many levels.
“It could be disastrous. It’s really tough to recover from that,” LaRock said.
Perhaps some comfort, however, comes from knowing these faux pas happen to everyone, according to Sandy Trupp, author of Office Emails That Really Click and managing director of Planned TV Arts in Washington. Her goal, she said, is to stop that “oh, no” moment — the second between the moment the sender hits the Send button and he or she realises the e-mail was sent to the wrong person.
“It just takes five to 10 seconds to check who you’re sending it to,” she said.
Sending the wrong e-mail to the wrong person is the “new epitome of social embarrassment,” said Deborah Keary, director of the information center at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va. And when that mistake is made, “all I can say is, go there, go now, apologise on your knees. Ask what you could possibly do to make up for it”. “There’s no way to cover it up. Just face it. It happens to everyone.”
Including her. She accidentally sent an e-mail stating a new employee’s salary to the entire staff. She had to apologise to the staff and go over with them the entire salary structure explaining how people are paid to smooth things over.
As for Dan, the man who sort of asked a female co-worker out through an officewide e-mail, he was saved by the fact that he was new and many people couldn’t yet match his name to his face. But that didn’t help entirely.
“You should have seen the avalanche of e-mails coming back, just ripping me. I almost left for the day right then,” he wrote in an e-mail to me (and only me). It helped that the intended recipient called him later in the day to soothe his crushed ego. “I did not hear from the boyfriend, thank goodness.... Even now,” he wrote, “I double-check my addressees.”