The Ham Sandwich Scandal

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The email debacle that gripped Sydney’s corporate sector this week has some lessons for email users and employers.

Posted 11 September 2005

The Ham Sandwich Affair showed the dangers of abusing email. Electronic mail is a powerful tool and misusing it can be expensive and embarrassing. It’s important to follow some basic rules when dealing with email.

We've revisted the basic rules ofá email etiquette. Those rules rules were first written three years ago and are as valid today as they were then. But there are issues both email users and employers need to keep in mind.

Lessons for users

Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see publicly. If you don’t want to see it on the six o’clock news next to your picture, then don’t write it. Don’t use expletives and be very careful about insulting third parties, they might just get a copy.

Angry? By all means write an angry email. But don’t send it, save it to your drafts folder and re-read it the next day. Never send an angry email.

Don’t address mail until you are ready to send it. That way, if you accidentally hit “send” it won’t go. Only include people who have reason for reading your email.

Similarly, the whole office doesn’t care about your ham sandwich. The “send all” function is a powerful and dangerous device. Only send all if it is genuinely something everyone on your mailing list needs to know about.

Some people have work to do. Silly emails from people who shouldn’t have received the original in the first place are a distraction. If it’s none of your business, ask the sender to stop sending them.

Lessons for employers

The lessons from this debacle are as great for employers as employees. There is no doubt this affair has proved embarrassing for the firm involved. Irresponsible emails can damage a reputation and be expensive.

Companies need to make clear that their email is primarily for business purposes. While some personal emails are expected, it should be made clear excessive personal use is not acceptable. Certainly abuse and spats are clearly not the proper use of a company email system and you don't want your company associated with them.

Forwarding internal correspondence outside the company is generally not acceptable. Even if it is two people calling each other funny names, hanging your businesses’ dirty laundry out publicly is not a good look.

Managers need to take their email practices seriously. While a comment from a secretary on the 18th floor may be laughed off, when it’s forwarded by a manager or a partner, it becomes serious. Managers need to treat email as serious company correspondence.

The Ham Sandwich affair was good for a laugh, but it shows that email can be a dangerous. Think before you send, and don’t send anything written in anger. Remember, don’t send anything you wouldn’t to see next to your photo in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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