HR Management & Compliance

E-mailed Pink Slips Create ‘Walking Negative Ads’

Survey says … more companies are using e-mail to deliver bad news. That’s going to result in a lot of disgruntled ex-employees forever spewing negative opinions about your company.

U.S. workers may want to think twice before opening that e-mail from the boss—it might be a termination notice, says a recent poll conducted for the workplace communications-oriented Marlin Company.

Termination by E-Mail

In Marlin’s 13th annual “Attitudes in the American Workplace” poll, conducted by Harris Interactive®, 10 percent of respondents said their company had used e-mail to fire or lay off employees. And 17 percent indicated their own boss had used e-mail to avoid other difficult face-to-face conversations.

Frank Kenna III, Marlin’s president, concluded, “E-mail has become the new shield of today’s business. Companies hide behind it to avoid the negative reactions of unhappy employees.”

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“While e-mail works fine for day-to-day communication, the last thing you want to do is use it for something as sensitive as layoffs,” Kenna said. “That risks turning former employees into disgruntled ones who can become walking negative advertisements for your firm.”

Humiliation by E-mail

The survey also found that 5 percent of respondents reported getting a humiliating e-mail that was copied to other individuals. Additionally, almost one-quarter of workers have received a politically incorrect e-mail, 15 percent have gotten one sent in anger, and 13 percent reported receiving flirtatious e-mails.

“E-mail etiquette is still in the middle ages, and for too many employees, anything goes is the rule,” said Mr. Kenna. “Just like companies have telephone policies, they need to have e-mail policies with clear rules for what is and isn’t permissible.”

E-Errors, Embarrassing at Best

The survey also found that workers make frequent other “e-errors.” Almost 20 percent said they had sent an e-mail to the wrong person (potentially very embarrassing), and 38 percent had sent one without an intended attachment (probably mildly embarrassing).

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What Can You Learn from the E-Survey?

This “Attitudes in the American Workplace” survey serves to reinforce a few basic messages about e-mail:

–Learn how to use your e-systems so you don’t fire off a sensitive e-mail to the wrong person (or to the whole company).

–Follow company guidelines for appropriate content. (If there are no guidelines, write them.)

–As you write, ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable if this e-mail were made public?”

–Take time to check your message before hitting “send” so you don’t have a “quick-finger-whoops” moment.

–Be wary of “smart”” computers that supply information for you—they might just not supply the address you were hoping for.

–Treat employees with respect and dignity. That means no “e-terminations,” no e-discipline and no e–performance appraisals.

Always Something New

HR—you’ve got to love it, but there’s always something new to stay on top of. If it’s not e-problems, it’s new laws, regulations, and court decisions. More on that in tomorrow’s Advisor.