Email Mistakes that Can Cost You Dearly

Email is an amazing tool that can allow you to communicate effortlessly in seconds. Like any other tool, however, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Employees that use email are cautioned to be aware of how they use this method of communication to avoid making terrible errors that can cost them dearly. Understanding email etiquette and avoiding email faux pas is key to a healthy work relationship.

Sending Prematurely

email sent prematurelySlow down a bit before you hit the trigger on that "send" button. Perhaps you should re-read the email to check for any spelling errors. Maybe you have not included complete information and you need to review your message before sending it on its way. Maybe you forgot to "cc" someone on the email who should be included in the string.

Before you hit "send," take a look at what you have written and determine if it is indeed the message you want to convey. Even more embarrassing is sending a half written note that makes it obvious that you weren't finished composing it.

Not Paying Attention to Your Tone

email with inappropriate toneOne of the major elements that is lost on email is context. When you are speaking to someone face to face, you can use facial expressions and gestures to show your intent. Not so with email. Your words have to accurately affect your tone so that the receiver understands the message. Using the wrong tone in an email can jeopardize your work relationships and cause friction in your office. Consider the two messages below and the different tones they take:

Hi Julie, is it possible that you can send the files today? Thanks, Kelly

"Julie, I need the files by the end of the day. Kelly."

One conveys a more collaborative tone, suggesting that the sender is in a cordial state of mind. She asks for the same items with the same urgency, yet there is a friendly, almost conciliatory tone. In the second email, the message offers no pleasantries, is curt and straight to the point. Both convey the same instruction, but there is a huge difference in how these two messages come across to the receiver.

At the same token, beware of using ALL CAPS or exclamation points. ALL CAPS signifies that you are yelling at the receiver, so beware of using this in your email communication. Exclamation points can have the same effect, making it appear that you are shouting or being overly enthusiastic. Using ALL CAPS is a major breach of email etiquette, so avoid it at all costs.

Beware of "Reply All"

reply allSometimes you may receive an email that includes several members. It may be a company-wide email announcing the holiday office closing schedule that is sent to all 350 employees. Perhaps you have a quick question for the sender. Don't hit "reply all" and send the message to everyone in the company. This can result in another employee replying to you using "reply all" and before you know it, one email has resulted in 250 emails that are clogging up everyone's inboxes all day.

Consider what happened in the summer of 2016 at Thomson Reuters. One person sent a mass message that reached all 33,000 employees at the company. People started replying to the message by hitting "reply all," and more users started responding by asking people not to hit "reply all." Of course, they did this using "reply all," which started an hours long saga that the resulted in each member of the organization getting more than 1,000 messages. The gaffe brought the workday to a grinding halt as more than 500 people responded begging everyone to stop responding.

Hitting "reply all" is a huge email faux pas that can cost your company dearly.

Pay Attention to the String

When you send an email and a colleague sends a response, all of the old messages are displayed below the new ones so that you can follow the conversation. Be aware of this string if you plan to include another person in the conversation. One real estate agent was thoroughly embarrassed when she forgot about this pesky email feature. She had been emailing a colleague back and forth about a client, and had made disparaging remarks about the client. She then forwarded the string to the client to deliver some information and the client discovered the communication. Needless to say, this did not end well.

Talking about your bad boss and how much you can't wait for him to go on vacation is a bad idea to begin with, but it gets even worse when you accidentally send that message to him later. Be aware of exactly what you are sending.

Keep Work Email Professional

keep professional
Your employer can intercept your email at any time, so keep all of your emails professional. Your work email does not belong to you. Each time you send an email, imagine that it is being sent on your company's letterhead. Don't send personal messages through the company's email server. Avoid making off-color or inappropriate jokes or sharing questionable pictures through your email. Many people have been fired for using their email in a way that was inappropriate, so keep your business communication professional.

At the same token, be cautious in your email with your fellow colleagues. Flirty messages or emails to set up dates to get together outside of work can get you into professional hot water. This also applies when you are working from home or with company equipment. If your employer gave you a smartphone or laptop to use, it belongs to the company, not to you. This means that your text messages, instant messenger and all email should be professional, regardless of where you are when you send it.

This is one of the most common email mistakes that people make, but it is the one that is most easily avoided.

Use "cc" and "bcc" Carefully

Using the carbon copy and the blind carbon copy is a way to send information to multiple people without alerting everyone that other people are copied on the message. When you "cc" someone, they know that they were not the original recipient, but that you meant to include them in the conversation. When you "bcc," however, the original recipients do not know that another person is included in the message. The problem comes in when the original recipients attempt to continue the conversation. The person who got the bcc may chime in, alerting everyone that this person was secretly included.

Blind cc'ing and cc'ing in general can get you into hot water with your superiors and interpersonal conflicts with your co-workers. In some cases, people who were blind copied will wonder why they were not originally included. In other cases, they may feel conflicted about their access to confidential information---are they supposed to pretend they don't know the information since the other recipients don't know they were included?

Consider what would happen if you had a conflict with another team member and bcc'd your boss. The boss might then discipline the other team member, making the situation worse. While there are times when you should blind copy--an HR issue with a bad boss or serious situation---it pays to use this feature sparingly.

Change the Subject

Well, not actually. But it pays to pay attention to your subject lines. Many people use "URGENT" and "IMPORTANT" in their subject lines to get people to prioritize their message over all others. This is a tactic that should be used sparingly. Is the hot water going to be shut off to the entire building? The subject line that reads "Hot water will be shut off at noon," conveys the same urgent message. If it is truly an emergency situation, use the phone.

Your subject line should be clear about the included message. The reader should be able to glance at their inbox and make their own decisions about which messages take priority. Subject lines should be clear and concise. Consider the following two subject lines:

"The meeting today"


"Agenda for 1:00 p.m. staff meeting."

Writing clear subject lines shows respect for the other person's time and is good business etiquette. Don't force them to open the email only to find out the message is not what they thought.

Don't forget the attachment

Attach icon
Sending an email and forgetting the attachment is one of the most common email mistakes. Some people suggest adding in the receiver's email address last so that you can be sure you have all of the elements of your message in place before you hit "send." Having to send the message a second time with "oops, forgot the attachment," is highly unprofessional.

When it comes to using email at work, it can be easy to step into a landmine. Whether it is sending personal messages or abusing the carbon copy or hitting "reply all," too many times, using email the wrong way can be damaging. By following a few tips for business etiquette, you can avoid embarrassing snafus that can cost you at work.

Having good communication skills is one of the top attributes that make a good team member. A company that encourages and takes care of the way people communicate usually report a better workplace climate, mainly because team members have fewer  misunderstandings that can cause conflict among the teams.

If you're not measuring how your staff perceives the two-way communication of, both your company and the people they work with, you're missing out on some of the most powerful and easy to fix issues related to employee engagement.

Our software, Clarity Wave measures in real-time how your personnel perceives different levels of communication within your company. Set up an appointment today to find out how it can help your business.

One Comment so far:

  1. eloise burke says:

    This article about email and how to use it or not – is spot on. In the work that I do, I constantly see the damage that inappropriate emails cause. I often feel like a broken record as I strive to demonstrate to my clients the harm done to staff morale, misunderstandings caused and the effect on team spirit by sending off emails willy-nilly.

    I will send your link to a number of clients and hopefully, it will assist them in better use of emails.

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *