A Publication of WTVP

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? John and Jill sit five feet from each other but have a running e-mail war going on for weeks regarding a project. The whole staff has been in an uproar about a series of e-mail chain letters, which aren't appropriate in the workplace. The amount of lost productivity is staggering. Top management is complaining of an overload of pointless e-mails where they've been "cc'd" unnecessarily.

E-mail was introduced to business to aid in communication. However, all too often, face-to-face communication is inappropriately replaced with an e-mail, which can lead to a lack of productivity, misinterpretation of the message, and general lack of professionalism. In addition, there's the added legal threat if an employee uses e-mail to harass another employee or disclose confidential information about the organization.

E-mail correspondence is disclosable in legal proceedings. To ensure they have a leg to stand on, at a minimum, companies need to publish guidelines regarding the usage of their company-provided electronic mail systems. If not, usually it's employers rather than employees who're held legally responsible for the contents of messages.

A written, comprehensive e-mail policy should reserve the right to monitor all forms of communication, indicate that electronic communication equipment should be used only for job-related purposes, state whether personal e-mail delivered to the office is permissible or grounds for discipline, and warn employees of the risk of discoverability and use against the employee and/or employer in any legal action. The policy should be distributed to-and signed by-all employees.

Offending employees need to be counseled on the right and wrong way to use e-mail. Points to cover should include:

  • Use e-mail only when face-to-face communication isn't possible or expedient. E-mail is good for scheduling appointments and generally updating multiple individuals.
  • Make sure the content is relevant to all recipients; otherwise, it's just junk mail. Reply only to the sender unless requested otherwise.
  • Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Use proper structure and layout (short paragraphs, blank lines between paragraphs, bullet points, etc.) to ease reading on the screen.
  • Read your e-mail before sending it. View it from the eyes of the recipient to avoid misunderstanding or the wrong tone of voice. Don't respond in anger. If you wouldn't say it face to face, don't send it in an e-mail. If in doubt, wait until the next day to see if your response is still the same.
  • An existing record retention policy also should be updated to include the storage and retrieval of electronic files and e-mails. E-mail retention/deletion policies should include archival e-mails, providing for deletion in the shortest period of time consistent with business needs.

While e-mail can be a very powerful communication tool for an organization, it can just as easily turn into "smoking gun" evidence. Take a few minutes to review your organization's e-mail policy; it could save you time and money in the long run. IBI