Email: A Costly Error & You Are Fired!

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A few years ago, a young woman called me, devastated. She had been fired from her job. She had nowhere to turn and was seeking advice. What could I tell her but the same old, tired phrases “Everything happens for a reason” or “You will see, it will be for the better.”  She was hurt, confused, depressed, penitent, sorrowful, and scared.  But mostly, she was humble. That was actually the word she used. Humble.

How many of us use that word when describing ourselves or our work? I know that I often feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to pump out the work that is required to stay afloat in business these days, but each day I do, and each day I strive for that evasive perfection – like that White Stag in Narnia. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of its tail as it runs into the brush. I often feel I will never ride upon its fair back or gaze into its soft brown eyes – the eyes of success.  But that is only my version of success.

The young woman had been a supervisor overseeing forty customer service representatives in a call center. She had been recently promoted to the position, having successfully navigated interviews and applications that lined her promotional process. Promoted just two weeks ago, it was her responsibility to take over “escalated calls” and “intense exchanges of communication” both written and over the phone. Her downfall? She accidentally sent an internal email to a customer. That’s it.

No foul language was used, no derogatory terms, just a few details about her personal findings in an “escalated incident.” When she discovered her mistake, she immediately went to her supervisor and revealed what had happened. She was escorted to her desk where she packed her scant belongings and was removed from the premises. Due to an unbendable rule, she was terminated immediately.

How many of us carelessly hit the send button every day? How many of us have said careless words that derailed someone’s work or caused more labor? The mistake can be simple, but its impact can be distressing and life-changing, as in this young woman’s case. No, she did not commit an egregious error or threaten a life, she simply broke a strict rule.

Check your verbiage. Adjust your stance. Clear your throat. Kick the dust off your shoes. Pop your knuckles. Whatever you need to do to weigh in and stay humble. True humility is not self-effacing  – it is recognizing your small place in a huge world that can easily go on without you, and yet aware that you could not possibly go on without it.

Send – a simple word, a simple action with implications beyond culpability that transcend uncomplicated duty.

Whew.  Say that five times fast.


Bonus Track!
Rayanne Thorn, @ray_anne is the Marketing Director for the online recruiting software company, Broadbean Technology.  She is also a proud mother of four, happily engaged to Tom, residing in Laguna Beach, California, and a daily contributor for Blogging4Jobs.  Connect with her on LinkedIn.  



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  1. This article misses the point. Individuals shouldn’t be “humbled” in this way. Corporations, businesses should be humble in the face of honest mistakes.

    • Carla-

      Of course, you are right. But that is not what happened. She was let go and left with complete humility – which is a great place to start from. And start she did. She went on to find other work. Work where she learned more life lessons, but also work where her contribution was more highly valued.

      Interestingly enough though, about a year later, she did hear from former co-workers who made her feel significantly better about what had happened. They shared with her that her former superiors stated, on a number of occasions, that they had made a mistake in letting her go, that they should have fought for her.

      And today, she is highly regarded at her current company.

      We don’t get to teach corporations and businesses lessons. Those who bear the burden of the learning will take that with them –and then– when THEY run the corporations and businesses, the lesson will come full circle.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!


      Ray_anne |
  2. I did this once. Sent an internal email to a client by mistake. Luckily, I had been quite complimentary in the text, and luckily my boss understood that mistakes do happen. It’s sad when a company forgets it is run by humans. 🙁

    • Darcy-

      Indeed lucky for you. Your boss was a very smart man, lucky for him. It is sad, but it is what it is. So we learn and we move on, if we’re lucky!

      Thanks so much for commenting!


      Ray_anne |
  3. It depends on the content of the email and the damage to the company or if it breaks a severe security rule.

    If the damage is not that great, I see this action as hasty and abusive from her manager. She proved her performance before, she had just been promoted so she was still adjusting to the new position.

    I am not aware of labor law in your country, but in Romania you can go to court with the employer for such an action and most of the times win. There’s a huge amount of paparwork to be done as disciplinary action before firing an employee. Maybe she shouldn’t just accept it and try to fight if she thinks that the mistake is not that great.

    • Hi Georgiana-

      Yes, it does depend on the content.

      In this case, the employee sent an internal email about an escalated customer service call and its resolution. There were no corporate secrets, just facts – everything the customer already knew. There was no damage.
      The action was hasty and hinged on a corporate rule already in place. Hands were supposedly tied.

      All’s well that end’s well as she is employed elsewhere now and surviving the brutal economy…


      Ray_anne |

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