As if getting laid off weren't dehumanizing enough, 10 percent of U.S. employees say that their company has used e-mail to fire or lay off employees.
In the workplace equivalent of getting dumped over the phone, 17 percent said their bosses had used e-mail to avoid difficult face-to-face interactions.
These were the findings of a survey of 752 workers conducted by Harris Interactive for the Marlin Company, a North Haven, Conn., employee communications company.
In a day and age where e-mail etiquette articles and advice columns run rampant on the Internet, the study evidenced that, surprisingly often, the worst e-mail practices happen in the hands of the individuals expected to know better—professionals who utilize digital communications all day.
"E-mail has become the shield of today's businesses," Frank Kenna III, president of the Marlin Company, said in a statement. "Companies hide behind it to avoid the negative reactions of unhappy employees."
In one of the most famous cases of callous e-mail firing, the electronics retailer Radio Shack cut 400 jobs in August 2006 but notified the laid-off employees by e-mail.
"The work force reduction notification is currently in progress," the notice stated. "Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated."
Employees received this e-mail in their inboxes on the morning that their dismissals were immediately effective.
"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. That risks turning former employees into disgruntled ones who can become walking negative advertisements for your firm," said Kenna.
Five percent of employees in the Marlin Company survey said they had been the recipient of a humiliating e-mail at work that had been copied to other individuals. Fifteen percent said that they'd received an angry e-mail from a colleague and 13 percent said they'd been sent a flirtatious one at work.
Nineteen percent of employees said they had sent an e-mail to the wrong person by accident in the last year.
"E-mail etiquette is still in the Middle Ages and for too many employees 'anything goes' is the rule. Just like companies have telephone policies, they need to have e-mail policies with clear rules for what is and is not permissible," said Kenna.