Phone vs. Email? Five Things You Should Never Do Via Email at Work

Everyone agrees that email makes communicating with our employees, colleagues and customers much, much easier. You can easily write up and send off an email that explains your idea, announces a new product, forwards a request, or answers a question in less time than it takes to order and pick up your latte at the coffee shop. This ease of use and practicality makes email extraordinarily popular. In fact, studies consistently show that Gen-Xers and Millennials – who will soon comprise the majority of the workforce – overwhelmingly prefer email and text to phone calls and voice messaging.

But regardless of how easy, practical, and popular it is, there are certain things that you should never do via email. In general, these are important announcements and communications that are emotionally loaded and are bound to have a strong impact on recipients. They should be accomplished in person or by phone.

Here are the top five things you should never do via email:

Fire Someone

Sure, terminating someone’s employment is uncomfortable, stressful and difficult for everyone. But firing an employee via email is cowardly and disrespectful. Part of being an effective leader is stepping up and doing things the right way, despite the difficulty and discomfort involved. Even if you’re firing someone who did something awful, it’s important to do it respectfully and responsibly, in person or over the phone if they’re remotely located; but never via email.

Deliver Seriously Bad Company News

Sooner or later, if you’re in the C-Suite, you’ll have to deliver some bad news about the company. It could be the loss of a big contract or major client, a layoff, a financial hit, or the unexpected resignation of a valued co-worker, or an announcement that you’re moving on. News like this will definitely trigger an emotional response from employees. And that response needs to be planned for and managed carefully. It’s imperative that you deliver this news in person, or on a conference call. Of course you can, and should, follow it up with a detailed email explaining what comes next.

Deliver Seriously Bad Personal News

Although most of us would prefer not to discuss it, according to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease and cancer account for nearly half of all deaths in the United States, with many occurring while the person is still employed. Using email to announce someone’s serious illness or death is a mistake. When the time is right to tell them, people need to hear news like this from the boss’s lips; they need to hear your voice and the honest emotions, compassion and courage within it. An email simply can’t convey these things effectively and is likely to result in accusations that you’re cold-hearted or cowardly. If you don’t know what to say and/or how to say it, contact a professional grief counselor or executive coach to help craft the appropriate language and tone.

Announce a Big, Bold Change

Just as really bad company news shouldn’t be announced via email, neither should a major change initiative. Many employees view change as a bad thing; they become concerned about the unknown; and leap into fight, flight, freeze mode because they consider change – even good change – as a threat. You need to announce big changes in person, or on a conference call so that everyone can hear the excitement, enthusiasm, and reassurance in your voice. Again, you can – and should – follow up such announcements with detailed emails explaining the change strategy, milestones and expected results.

Discuss Confidential or Legal Matters & Strategy

The concept of attorney-client privilege is still sacrosanct, thank goodness. But, if you’re using email to discuss confidential or legal matters and strategy with your colleagues who are not attorneys, you could be leaving a digital paper trail that is discoverable in the event of a lawsuit. Your safest bet is to have these kinds of discussions in person and in private, or over secure phone lines.