5 Things You Should Never Put In Writing At Work

The workday can feel so long…and your email inbox or Slack channel can seem like such a private haven—a secret clubhouse where you can share jokes and kvetch with your work spouse. But don't let a false sense of security lull you into making a career-derailing mistake. There are certain things you should never put in writing at work, no matter how much you trust your intended recipient. Look out for these five dangers zones:

dont put in writing

1.  Criticism of A Coworker, Manager, or Client

Reply-all is right next to reply. Repeat: Reply-all is right next to reply—and forward is just a mouse-click away. Even if you can trust your work pal will never rat you out to a supervisor, can you trust that he or she won’t click the wrong button or have fat fingers on a smartphone? We've all been on the end of a misdirected email, so why run the risk? At best, you're going to damage a relationship; at worst, you run the risk of losing your job, particularly if you're on the record speaking poorly of a client. If you must make a negative observation, keep it verbal—and better yet, save it for your partner or best non-work friend.

2.  Confidential or Proprietary Information

Unless you have specific authorization to do so, never put confidential or proprietary information in writing. You could be costing your company its competitive advantage, even if you work for a company that doesn't pursue leaks as aggressively as, say, Apple. Keep in mind when a leak occurs, the first place IT will be directed to look is the email system. This is a good time to remind everyone that your work email belongs to your company, no ifs, ands, or buts. Keep your personal life out of your work account and vice versa, especially if you work in the public sector. Even if you think you're being crafty and covering your tracks, you are leaving some sort of digital footprint that can be traced if your company is willing to allocate enough resources. Some industries even have specific record retention standards dictated by law that include employee email communications.

3.  Anything Risqué or Derogatory

Even in the year 2018, employees at all levels are still cracking jokes and making observations that keep the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in business. Don't be one of them. Sexual comments and racial slurs have no place in the workplace, period—whether verbal or in writing. That includes inappropriate GIFs, no matter how much they might brighten your buddy's day. Again: once you hit send, the message is out of your control and will live on in the digital world forever, no matter how you try to delete it.

4.  The Details of Your Job Search

This should be another statement of the obvious, but don't conduct your job search on your work computer or wireless network unless you want your boss to find out. Even a Google search constitutes putting your job search "in writing" if conducted on a work device. So does leaving a copy of your freshly updated resume on your computer desktop or scanning your acceptance letter on the office copy machine.

5.  Gossip About Colleagues or Clients

Tempting though it may be, the person whose reputation is most likely to be destroyed by sharing gossip is you. When you dish the goods, you run the risk of being branded as untrustworthy and insincere. That's bad enough when there isn't written proof, so why give your boss some? Who needs a time-and-date stamp on your bad behavior? If you must contribute to the office grapevine, keep it conversational.

In general, here's a good rule of thumb for all office communications: Would I be embarrassed if six months from now this email were printed in the newspaper or posted online for anyone to read? If the answer is yes, hit delete. And don't forget that the guys in IT have access to everything.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market