Most professionals have experienced at least one cringe-inducing moment after they've hit "send," a new survey suggests. Nearly eight in 10 advertising and marketing executives polled confess they've made a mistake when sending e-mail. When asked to name the worst snafu they or others they know have made on the job, the responses ranged from erroneously sending out an employee's salary information to the entire company to recalling a nasty e-mail about the boss that made its way to top management.
The national survey was developed by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and web professionals on a project basis, and conducted by an independent research firm. It is based on 250 telephone interviews - 125 with advertising executives randomly selected from the nation's 1,000 largest advertising agencies and 125 with senior marketing executives randomly selected from the nation's 1,000 largest companies.
Advertising and marketing executives were asked, "Have you ever mistakenly e-mailed someone the wrong message or copied someone on a message without intending to?" Their responses:
Survey respondents also were asked to describe the worst e-mail mistakes that they or others they know have made. Among the responses:
- "Someone sent out confidential salary information to the whole firm."
- "I once sent a job offer to the wrong person."
- "An employee sent his resume to me by mistake. It was supposed to go to an outside company."
- "Someone made a nasty comment about a supervisor and it was sent to the supervisor by mistake. It eventually led to dismissal."
- "A person called another employee an idiot in an e-mail to everyone in the company."
- "One of our vendors accidentally e-mailed me information about their sales performance, so I gained some inside knowledge about that vendor."
- "My receptionist sent a very gossipy and catty e-mail about another employee to the wrong person. It was so unprofessional that she was terminated."
- "We sent an e-mail to a client that was meant for a vendor. It made it difficult when the client had seen our costs."
- Confidential information about one client was sent to a different client. It was certainly embarrassing."
- "Someone crafted a scathing, sarcastic e-mail about a customer and did not mean to hit 'send.' It caused problems."
- "I once sent an internal memo about restroom etiquette to a prospective client by accident."
- "Someone sent me a copy of an employee's bank records by mistake."
- "Someone meant to send a racy picture to a couple of friends but ended up sending it to the entire staff, which caused her much embarrassment."
"E-mail mistakes can be painfully visible and viral," said Megan Slabinski, executive director of The Creative Group. "Professionals must be especially careful in this economy not to do anything that could cause employers to question their competence or judgment, and that means paying close attention when sending any kind of message, particularly if the information is sensitive."
The Creative Group offers the following seven tips to help professionals avoid e-mail errors:
- Give it your undivided attention. Avoid multitasking when responding to important or sensitive messages. If you can't respond right away, let the person know when they can expect to hear back. Then, compose the e-mail when you're free of distractions.
- Save the distribution list for last. When writing a confidential or sensitive message, wait until it is complete before carefully selecting the recipients. This will help you avoid sending out an incomplete thought or selecting the wrong individuals.
- Take care with those you copy. Think twice before hitting "reply all," and only copy people who need to be in on the conversation.
- Review it on a big screen. E-mailing using handheld devices with small screens and keyboards may increase the likelihood of typos and other mistakes. When sending an important e-mail, it can be helpful to view it on a full-size computer screen or use spell-check before transmitting.
- Check attachments. Insert any documents - and confirm that they're the right ones - as soon as you refer to them in the memo.
- Don't hit "send" when you're seething. E-mailing when you're angry is never a good idea. Give yourself time to cool down before responding. It may be better to speak in person.
- Keep it professional. Bear in mind that electronic messages can easily be forwarded and employee e-mails may be monitored. Avoid saying anything unkind or unprofessional.