E-mail Oops! of the millennium (so far)

September 5, 2008, 3:03 PM UTC

I’m sure you’ve done it. Clicked the SEND button too fast, I mean? Of course you have.  I certainly have.

Last year I received an e-mail from Legal. In it, some bonehead attorney for the other side in an obnoxious case that was pending articulated a position that was so aggravating that I had to make a comment about it to my pal, the General Counsel of our company. “Who is this f***ing guy?!” I wrote, in perhaps not my most convivial or corporate tone. “And will somebody please tell him to SHUT UP?!” I was in a bad mood. I admit it.

About six seconds later,  I got an e-mail back from our General Counsel, whom I will call Bud. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” it read. “BOB GROSS IS COPIED ON YOUR E-MAIL!!” Bob Gross, which is not his real name, was the flatulent barrister who had generated my wrath. Obviously, I had hit REPLY TO ALL instead of the simple, safe REPLY. Several moments later, I got another e-mail… from Bob Gross himself. “Who is this?” it inquired politely of me. “Perhaps we should have lunch sometime.”

I was required to reply to the gross Mr. Gross in the most subservient, sniveling and apologetic of terms, admitting that I had lost my temper and sent an impolitic correspondence, etc., etc., and blah blah blah. Gross, for his part, was pleased. He had aggravated somebody. His job as an attorney was done for the day. Or at least for the hour.

I tell this story to make a point: into the valley of digital humiliation and possible termination go we all.

Which brings us to a particularly stunning atrocity of the genre, reported by Advertising Age online earlier this week. I’ll give you the short version:

Carat is a media agency that, like many in the sector, is “rationalizing its costs” during the current economic downturn. This odious part of corporate life is very often run by the Human Resources department of a company, a discipline given to the over-generation of formal internal communication about everything. HR is very good at planning these kinds of things, but should never be given the job of handling the communications for them, really. Honest. You can take that to the bank.

Anyhow, in the process of working up the communication strategy for their upcoming layoffs, sorry, I mean Restructuring, the HR department produced a comprehensive suite of documents elucidating how it was supposed to go, the messages to employees, internal talking points, and so forth. When that was assembled, the head of HR for Carat pushed the wrong button and sent the entire package of material wide via electronic mail to all employees, including a lot who were scheduled to be decruited in the coming debacle. AdAge reports:

Struggling media agency Carat is planning a major restructuring of its U.S. operations, including an undetermined number of layoffs – news it accidentally released today via a memo the agency’s top New York-based HR executive e-mailed to the entire agency that appeared to be intended only for senior managers.

So… a word to the wise and the foolish alike: Think before you click. You’ll be glad you did.