If you read the news (or are on Twitter or Facebook...or are just, ya know a human at this point), you'll have become quite familiar with the concept of 'Wikileaks' and their method of dumping emails onto the greater public. For some people, a dump of your work emails wouldn't ever be a big deal - it might expose how early you start thinking about lunch or what you really think of a coworker - but it likely wouldn't make headline news. Regardless, as you start your career, there are some lessons in email etiquette it would behoove us all to learn because believe it or not, people are reading them.
1. "The Washington Post Test"
In discussing recent politics with my boss, I mentioned how we all have something lying in our inboxes we wouldn't necessarily want out in the world. His advice was one he'd received early on in his career: ensure that every email you write would pass The Washington Post Test.
Wait, but what's that even mean? Well every email you write should pass the sniff test: will this embarrass me if people read it? Will my parents be ashamed? Could I be fired based on it's content?
All of this seems like common sense, however as Wikileaks has proved...not so much.
2. "Go the F to Sleep" - Samuel L. Jackson
We've all been there - who hasn't received a nastygram from a coworker or a less than stellar critique of our work? Who hasn't made a mistake (we're all human) and instinctively fired off a response filled with excuses and blame-sharing? My gut (and maybe yours) is to fire off a reply letting lose all of my fury.
Obviously, sometimes you have to reply immediately but if it isn't time-sensitive, write that nasty response then SAVE it in your drafts. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Instead, shut your email down for a bit, go for a walk, scream in your car like I do...do something to get the frustration gone. Then return to the email and tear it to shreds, responding with reason and an air of calm.
If you don't have time, grab a coworker to get a second set of eyes on your words. Sometimes we have blinders on and think we're responding reasonably when really our words are too harsh. Having someone review my emails before has saved me from making a mountain out of a molehill.
3. Big Brother is Watching
Creepy, I know. However, while most of us don't need to worry about the contents of our email being headline worthy, you do still need to worry about people like your friendly neighborhood IT folk having access to the contents of your email, your boss, the SEC (if you work in finance, all those emails are seizable), HR....the list of people that may have access to your corporate email is astounding.
So again, refer to #1: the contents of your email should always be professional, by the law, and in no way incriminating.
4. Oh My God, Becky, LOOK At Her Butt
Listen, it's human nature - most of us are gossiping little shits and sometimes we aren't the nicest humans. Some days it may feel like your boss is targeting you and you want to vent to a colleague, maybe there's a guy that ALWAYS seems to be in the kitchen and never doing his work, or maybe you just don't get along with someone. The urge is always there to share these thoughts and feelings and to do so via email (or internal chats - ALSO viewable) but take the more old-fashioned root: verbally communicate your frustration to a trusted source.
I don't advise the person receiving the brunt of your gossip be a coworker because you never know what they're actually thinking. Instead, find a patient friend to vent to, call your mom, brother, father - whoever, or unload on your partner. My mum knows more about the things I dislike at work than the stuff that I enjoy because that's also human nature: we're far more likely to talk about what upsets us than what makes us happy.
Note: if you find yourself consistently unhappy at work, the best advice is to move on and try to find another position elsewhere. Nothing that demolishes your mental health is worth it, no matter how much money you make. You're not a tree, don't get rooted into one place because you're too scared to leave.
Bottomline is be polite, be professional. But if you can't, at least be prepared and ensure the contents of your email reflect your best self.
Image from Pexel.