Employee email blunders: how to stop them causing reputational damage
Email mistakes like the ones described here can hurt your organisation’s reputation and cost you money. So, what can you do to prevent them?
Suppose you’re the CEO of a well-respected international law firm – one known for integrity and professionalism.
A junior lawyer in your firm receives an email from his girlfriend. It’s an intimate, sexually explicit message.
He’s pleased with her compliments and decides to share the email with several of his workmates.
Finding it funny, they use your firm’s email system to forward the message to their friends, who share it with their mates, until . . .
Within a few days, 20 million people around the world have received the email with your once-respected brand name on it. And the story of the email, including references to your firm, is front-page news in national newspapers.
All of this actually happened to London law firm Norton-Rose back in 2000.
“[The] incident is often cited as an example of the problems that staff can cause to the reputation of their employer.”
Costly email mistakes
Sure, company IT usage policies have helped prevent the distribution of inappropriate messages since Norton-Rose’s embarrassing PR mess.
But employees are still sending plenty of damaging emails – messages that prove costly, both in terms of reputation and money.
To be fair, they usually do it by accident, firing off an email in haste, without first checking it or thinking of the consequences.
Let’s look at some of the different types of potentially damaging emails, and then consider possible ways to prevent them.
- Bad writing
An email might be overly long, poorly written, or tonally wrong, and sent to someone important – a prospective client, for example.
Such a message won’t just spoil your company reputation. Bad writing, including emails, has been estimated to cost American businesses nearly $400 billion every year.
- A wrong addressee
Emails are often sent to the wrong person, sometimes with dire consequences.
An employee in a US company emailed their colleagues about a customer who they all knew was difficult, saying: "The wicked witch of the west is back on her broomstick. Which one of you wants to respond?"
Unfortunately, the sender accidentally cc’d the customer. The result? The company lost the customer’s account, worth $2 million, suffered a blow to its reputation, and the sender lost their job.
- Data breaches
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) tells us that most data breaches are not caused by malicious criminals.
On the contrary, 88% are the result of human error, with 37% made by people sending confidential data to the wrong person – the majority of these mistakes happening via email.
Frequently, employees accidentally send personal or other confidential information, like staff members’ salaries, to people who aren’t authorised to see it.
Take, for example, this story of a real estate company in Australia. One of its employees pasted 300 customers’ email addresses in the CC field instead of in the BCC field.
This personal data breach had to be investigated and reported to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which cost the firm money and damaged their reputation.
- Making defamatory statements
Defaming a company or individual in an email could leave your firm open to litigation.
In 1997, Norwich Union was held liable for defaming a competitor, Western Provident Association (WPA), in an internal email. Norwich Union ended up paying WPA £450,000 in damages plus costs, and making a public apology.
No doubt the resulting publicity harmed Norwich Union’s good name as well.
We could go on – the range of types of potentially harmful emails is probably endless.
The main problem to consider is this:
Distracted workers cost you customers
HR News reports that a survey of US companies by email security firm Tessian “found that one in five companies (20 per cent) have lost customers as a result of mistakenly sending an email to the wrong person” [58% of employees admitted to doing this]. “A further 10 per cent of workers said they had lost their job after sending an email to the wrong person.”
Why are they so careless? Distraction was the reason cited by 41% of the employees.
So, as an employer, what can you do to prevent your people from making these mistakes and harming your reputation?
Tips for avoiding email gaffes
Remind all your staff to:
- Delay sending their emails for at least a few seconds – to have time to go over them.
- Check emails thoroughly before pressing Send.
- Proofread them.
- Are names spelled correctly?
- Are messages clear, succinct and tonally appropriate?
- Do they include anything that could offend?
- Are they sharing confidential information with the wrong people?
- Are they addressed to the correct recipient(s) and only the correct recipient(s)?
- Delay emailing if you’re angry.
Put simply, your employees need to be more attentive when sending emails.
And how can you encourage them to be more mindful?
A powerful safeguard: Cryoserver
We offer you a way to help deter your staff from sending potentially harmful emails.
Cryoserver email archiving takes a copy of every single email sent or received by your organisation. It then stores that copy securely and permanently in a tamper-evident archive.
Even if the sender deletes the email from their Outlook/inbox, the copy is unaffected.
Knowing this, your employees are bound to think twice before pressing Send.
Also, suppose your organisation’s confidential data is leaked in an email, or information isn’t properly communicated or heeded, and this results in reputational damage.
By having an evidential repository in your Cryoserver email archive, you can easily investigate and find out who’s responsible.
Then you can prevent similar mistakes from happening – and help to safeguard your organisation’s reputation.Blog