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The world’s worst email errors

26th May 2015

World's worst email errors

We’ve all been there, that cringe-worthy moment when you’ve hit ‘send’ and realised you’ve sent an email meant for your colleagues to your boss. While ‘Recall this message’ has saved many an employee from their P45, what happens when you make an email error that you can’t recall? Or if you’re making email faux pas that you are not even aware of?

Here we have put together a list of the more humorous and, at times, mortifying examples of poor email etiquette for your amusement and, more importantly, for you to learn from. No matter how much you may trust your colleagues in your long-term in-house lawyer job, it just isn’t worth the risk.

1. Reply All

Now pay attention, this one is important. The ‘Reply All’ may be a great time-saver, but disabling the feature may be the best thing you ever did in your career. For every time you have to enter each contact manually there will be a person who wished they had disabled theirs years ago. After sending a scathing email to a colleague in response to a message, only to realise you’ve hit ‘Reply All’ and now the entire office knows just what you think of Brenda’s subtle hint about keeping the kitchen clean, you will learn that Reply All is a foe, not a friend.

Search engine Lycos released statistics, as documented in Chas Newkey-Burden’s book Great Email Disasters, which suggested that 42 email mistakes are made every minute in the UK and 60 percent of those involved an email being sent to the wrong person. Don’t be one of them.

2. CC? No, no…

CC’ing in a business email can be a tricky subject for a number of reasons. Firstly, think carefully before CC’ing in a higher member of staff in the midst of an email chain; in office terms it is the equivalent of telling the teacher and while you may get your way in the short term, playground politics never work in favour of the snitch.

That being said, the art of CC’ing is definitely that; an art form. Once you have learnt to CC in the right people on the right emails, without badgering those who don’t need to be included, you will quickly see results and earn the respect of your colleagues who will appreciate your efficiency.

Just remember to be meticulous with your address book and triple-proof your email copy before CC’ing in the whole company.

email cc message

3. The follow up= nagging.

While it is very annoying when you have to speak with that colleague who never replies to emails, the instant follow-up email or phone call is not the answer. People are busy, particularly in the legal profession, but that doesn’t mean that they will never reply to you. Give it a couple of days if it is not immediately urgent and then follow up with a brief email, assuring that the tone is professional and not ‘naggy’.

4. Auto-response

Nothing gets people’s backs up more than the generic, unhelpful auto-response. It comes across as arrogant and unless you are sending an out of office message, it is common email etiquette to avoid the auto-response at all costs. If you are busy, take the time to reply, saying you have flagged the email and will get back to them as soon as you can. This will take barely anytime at all. Try using email templates for this sort of response; it is just as quick as the auto-response, without the negative connotations felt by your colleagues.

5. Keep it professional…please.

Many of us will have heard of the legendary email sent by a Ms Claire Swire to her then boyfriend Bradley Chait, who held a top lawyer job at Norton Rose at the time, whereby she emailed her delight at a sexual encounter between the two, only for him to then forward the compliment to a select group of colleagues. Needless to say, the email spread like wildfire across offices around the world and Norton Rose has since commented that they have a “robust approach to email abuse”. Moral of the story? Keep it professional. At. All. Times. If you wouldn’t want it read in a court room, keep it out of your law office email.

6. Enter the ‘To’ field AFTER you’ve composed the email

This one is simple yet effective. You can’t accidently send a damaging email if you haven’t got an email address to send it to. Write the email body, check it, check it again and then enter the intended recipient’s email address.

7. Attach the attachment

Nothing is worse for someone who has been waiting for work documents than an email that is sent without the said documents attached. Not only is this incredibly irritating, it can make you look unprofessional and give the impression that you are someone who doesn’t take the time to proof their emails. If you don’t carefully check your emails, what else aren’t you taking care over?

Thankfully with 2013 also came the year that Outlook added the attachment reminder, where a warning box flashes up should you write the words ‘please see the attached documents’ or similar. Should you wish to enable, or disable, this feature for any reason, this article shows you how to do just that.

email attachment message

8. Out of office message, out of office attitude

The out of office message is a perfect example of where email etiquette can go wrong. One of the biggest pet peeves of the office is the person who sets their out of office message when they are still in the office. Whether you’re too busy to respond to emails or you have set the message early, this is a sure-fire way to irritate colleagues. If you’re too busy, refer to point four. If you’re in a rush and need to set your out of office early, set the time to when you intend to leave the office. It’s not hard.

The other common email error with out of office messages is setting a different out of office for ‘inside my organisation’ to ‘outside my organisation’. Setting a gloating message about your upcoming trip to Italy to your colleagues, no matter how funny it is, can only ever end in trouble. It’s just not worth the risk if you get the two mixed up. So keep it professional.

Looking for more email hacks for the office? See our previous article that will show you how to avoid embarrassment, and an unwanted P45, by recalling an email as well as many other life (or, more likely) time-saving tips!

Image Credit: Alon (