When it comes to using email, the workplace has its own special concerns for the user. When someone sends an email message on behalf of an organization or when any email is received at an account controlled by an organization, an organization, that user should be aware of some of the basic realities of using email in the workplace. The following tips will help any user to avoid many of the hazards associated with improper use of email in the workplace.
- Know the rules for using email: Every organization that uses email should have some kind of policy that covers how that resource can be used. Ideally, that organization’s email use policy is written down and everyone in the organization is made aware of the policy. If there is no explicit policy, then review policies concerning the use of the organization’s resources and use your judgment as to what is proper conduct. Review the Top 10 Tips for Using the Web at Work for related advice concerning the use of the Web in the workplace.
- Treat email as though it were a traditional printed document: While it may lack the formality of a memo with a company letterhead, an email can be just as legally binding as a traditional printed document. When sending an email message, especially a message sent to a recipient outside of the organization, ask yourself whether the content of that message would also be appropriate for a printed document. If you would not send it as a memo or letter, don’t send it as an email. Review the Top 10 Internet Copyright Tips and on Basic Email Style and Grammar Advice
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- Avoid humor in work-related email: Humor has its place in the workplace, but in an email humor can cause any number of problems. If the recipient is an any way offended by the content of an email or its attachments, it may be considered workplace related harassment. Because organizations commonly archive email that is sent or received by the organization, it may be difficult or impossible for the sender to avoid responsibility. Also, keep in mind that the recipient of an email may forward the email to others inside and outside the organization, putting the reputation of the organization and people within the organization at greater risk. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides detailed information on what may constitute harassment in the workplace.
- Make sure that your email will not embarrass you or your organization: Before you send out or forward any email message, ask yourself whether the contents of that message will come back to haunt you. Subjects that are usually discussed in whispers at the office are best kept out of an email. Rumors, gossip, and other issues not directly related to the organization’s business should be kept out of an email. Before you send out any email, ask yourself the following question “If this email were accidentally sent to everyone in the organization, would I be in some kind of trouble?”
- Keep personal email to a minimum: Typically, most organizations allow a workers to use the organization’s email resources for limited personal use. Check with your organization to find out what is allowed and what is not allowed. This may also be the case if you use the organization’s resources to access a personal Web-based email such as Gmail. Review the Top 10 Tips for Using the Web at Work for related advice concerning the use of an organization’s Internet resources.
- Remember that the organization can monitor your use of email: In the US, organizations are granted wide latitude in monitoring email use in the workplace. The contents of incoming and outgoing email may be reviewed by management or by technical support staff without getting prior permission from the owner of that email account.
- Minimize the size and number of email attachments: Depending on the system used by an organization, email with large attachments that are sent to large numbers of recipients may lead to a significant degradation in the capacity of the system. Alternatives to sending attachments to a large number of recipients include posting the attachments on the organization’s Web site or sending the attachments only to those who request them. Review the advice on email attachments for further hints.
- Take extra care when you discuss sensitive information in an email: When you send an email to someone outside of the organization, keep in mind that you represent the organization and not just yourself and that the organization may be held responsible for your actions or your promises. Also, if you send proprietary or sensitive information to an outsider, that person may be free to spread that information to others. Depending on your organization, there may be other classes of information that should not be transmitted by email either internally or externally.
- Document and report illegal, suspicious, or unusual activity to the appropriate part of the organization: This piece of advice is easy to follow when it involves activity by outsiders such as unsolicited email. If it involves activities or behaviors of people inside the organization, be sure that you follow established procedures for dealing with the issue. Review Ten Internet Activities You Should Not Do at Work for insights into what you should report.
- Exercise your common sense whenever you use email: Because the way that any individual or any organization uses the Internet is constantly evolving, there will very likely be situations that have not been addressed by the organization. When in doubt or if the situation is ambiguous, review the organization’s current policies and apply your common sense to the situation.