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E-mail jokers fail to amuse U.K. watchdog

Many would-be funny e-mails just annoy co-workers, a U.K. agency finds, as it sets workplace rules.

The U.K. government is bringing in new regulations to resolve those painful occasions when that "funny" workplace e-mail ends up in the wrong in-box.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will, from Oct. 1, require businesses to have a statutory three-stage complaints process in place to deal with dismissals and disciplinary problems. The workplace rules are designed to encourage good communication.

The new regulations come after the publication of a DTI survey that found that nearly one in 10 employees of British companies has sent an e-mail to the wrong person. The findings also showed that men are more likely to make this mistake.

The DTI also said that nearly a one-fourth of employees in London have suffered rebuttals from colleagues who failed to see the funny side of their "humorous" e-mails.

The DTI released the figures ahead of the enforcement of its new dispute regulations to highlight that accurate and effective communication have become essential in the modern workplace.

"E-mail gives great benefits for businesses, but getting the tone or timing wrong can result in a breakdown of communication at an individual level," said Gerry Sutcliffe, the employment relations minister at the DTI.

"Many businesses already have dismissal and disciplinary procedures in place, but for those that don't, the new regulations will help ensure that they avoid unnecessary costs and stress," he said.

When a dispute arises, many employers are slow to act, the DTI said. Previous research has indicated that in one-third of cases, problems are never even discussed at all.

As a result, there were 115,000 employment tribunals held in the United Kingdom last year to deal with disputes over a whole range of issues, including sexual harassment and pay.

The survey results were complied by the British Marketing Research Bureau, on behalf of the DTI, and are based on a poll of 1,000 full-time and part-time employees.

James Sherwood of ZDNet UK reported from London.