Should you be sacked for sending SHOUTY email?

email-at-sign-173x175This week it was reported that a New Zealand woman was sacked from her job as an accountant at a healthcare company after colleagues complained that her emails were too “shouty”.  This was because of her tendency to write her emails in CAPITAL LETTERS.

Should you be sacked for sending SHOUTY email?

Perhaps understandably, she thought that by using capital letters, her fellow employees would PAY MORE ATTENTION to her missives than if she used regular, lower case.

An employment tribunal also heard that Vicki Walker behaved “provocatively” by highlighting the REALLY IMPORTANT phrases in bold or red.  In one office-wide email presented as evidence she had typed in bold blue letters: “TO ENSURE YOUR STAFF CLAIM IS PROCESSED AND PAID, PLEASE DO FOLLOW THE BELOW CHECK LIST.”

She did say ‘please’ though, which I don’t think is shouty at all.  Mrs Walker said that it was “ridiculous” to describe the email as confrontational, arguing that she was only trying to ensure that her colleagues filled out their forms correctly.

So what is it that we find so offensive about receiving emails peppered with upper case, bright red, bold and underlined instructions? I’ll admit, I think it’s imbuing your own communiqués with a sense of urgency and importance they probably don’t deserve.

Regardless, Mrs Walker was awarded £7,000 ($17,000 NZD) after the tribunal found that she had been unfairly dismissed, as her employer had no email style guide, meaning employees couldn’t be certain about what kinds of communication were deemed unacceptable. But how many companies have email style guides?

Perhaps this may be the safest course of action for some companies.  According to the Daily Telegraph, over-familiar or misjudged emails to clients can costs firms tens of thousands of pounds in lost orders. Quite often I will receive emails from PR executives dotted with smiley/sad faces and even kisses. But I just put that down to them working in PR, and move on.

However, the folks at Microsoft reckon that breaches of unspoken internet etiquette can cost companies in terms of lost orders and offended clients. Last year it teamed up with a British finishing school to compose a ‘netiquette’ guide that explains what is – and isn’t – acceptable behaviour in the internet age.

Since the dawn of email there have been incidents where the recipient has misunderstood a sarcastic or flippant comment, particularly where that good old breakdown in communication happens somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic.

Common mistakes consist mainly of failing to separate personal messages from corporate communication. This includes sending over-familiar emails, making bad jokes (who hasn’t done that?) and flirting with clients online. Less fun that way, you’d imagine, but still a problem, apparently.

Email etiquette is clearly a minefield, which it appears companies will have to navigate very carefully.

Christine Horton is editor of PC Pro’s sister site Channel Pro

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