The F word

It’s recently been reported that a former interim chief executive of an NHS Trust was unfairly dismissed for sending a high volume of inappropriate emails, including personal ones, and not taking action when receiving inappropriate emails.

The Employment Tribunal felt that the emails were “largely innocent; at or below the level of seaside postcard humour”.  It went on to highlight that over a two year period, the emails contained 12 expletives and the f-word appeared six times.  As such, the Tribunal felt that this reflected language “in common everyday usage throughout industry, commerce, voluntary organisations and public authorities”.

I have never used the F word in an email.  And those who know me, know that I don’t shy from verbally expressing my anger by using expletives (but not quite as fluently as Gordon Ramsey).  But I think a line is crossed when it’s written in an email.

Equally, I have never seen an email in over a decade of working in or with the NHS that contained the F word.  And if I did, I’m not sure what I would do.

So I’m not so sure I agree with the Tribunal’s opinion that using the F word six times in two years in an email is a reflection of everyday usage in business.

Am I wrong?

Think Twice Before Pressing Send

Recently I have been inundated with stories from clients and friends about emails that have got them into trouble -   the ones where the content of the email has reached the wrong audience.  You know the type of email that I’m talking about as we’ve all done it.

The one that sticks most clearly in my mind was the time I recieved a briefing on a piece of OD work that one of the internal trainers wanted to deliver.  I was not impressed by their briefing, although the exact details now escape me.  What I do remember is that I wrote “What the?” and although I meant to send this onto a colleague, I pressed “Reply to Sender” instead.   I (luckily?) realised as the message worked it’s way through cyber-space. I hastily constructed an end to that sentence which I rapidy sent off to the trainer with an added message “Sorry, I pressed send too soon”.  I think I got away with it, as we’re still in touch many years later!

The consequences of such actions can lead to conflict or even grievances.  This can be costly both in terms of time and cost for organisations.   To avoid any issues, consider the following:

1.  The third-party perspective:  although you are sending an email to someone you trust, they may inadvertently send this email onto somebody else.  This could be for a number of reasons:  a classic one is  because they forget to remove the old messages at the bottom of the email.

2.  If the content is sensitive, take the message off-line:  Pick up the phone and have that conversation instead.

3.  Make sure the subject matter is factual, or that any subjective comments can be evidenced.

4. Consider Data Protection Issues:  if the  subject of the email is about an employee, they can request copies of such emails under Data Protection legislation.

5.  Double-check everything:  check the addressees, check the content.  With difficult or sensitive correspondance I often complete a draft and then re-visit it a few hours later with a fresh set of eyes before releasing the document.

But the morale of this blog is:  just think twice before pressing send.

Post script:  13 May 2010:

For an interesting blog on email usage and associated statistics, check out http://su.pr/1gvx2w.