And the biggest single threat to your job / career is.....

Hand On Keyboard

Right there in front of you on your desk.

Email

'We try not to use email as much as we used to', one banker explained to Here Is The City, 'It's just too risky. Why take the chance ? A word taken out of context, a phrase or comment emailed in jest, or a throwaway line interpreted by a regulator as indicating wrongdoing. 

'Emailing has now become a risky business. If I have something to say to a colleague now, I'd rather walk over to his desk for a quick chat, or telephone and have a proper conversation. Of course, you can't get away from using them altogether, but you can mitigate the risk'.

Over the last dozen years or so, email has become an accepted, perhaps essential, part of all our lives. And it is so successfully ingrained in our culture that we no longer think about what we have written before we hit the 'send' button. Because, for the most part, email is just a quick way for us to communicate what's on our mind. And just as we often don't think through what we say before we open our mouths, we rarely examine what we have written before we launch an email out into cyberspace.

The big difference, of course, is that a glib vocal comment usually won't come back months, or even years, later to bit you on the bum;  an incautious or inappropriate word can always be denied, or played down. With email, though, there is that audit trail. And every time you hit the 'send' button, you run the risk that someone might not like what you have written, and try to hold it against you. Bankers and other financial professionals, of course, have the most to lose from 'stray email syndrome', as their behaviour is now under the microscope as never before.

'We live in a giant fishbowl', our banker told us, 'And it's not just the Wayne Rooneys and Charlie Sheens of this world who have to watch what they do, and how they behave. All of us in this industry have to as well'. And he's right.

Yes, in today's society we have to be careful about what we do (even in our own time), how we behave at all times, what we Tweet, what we stick on Facebook and any other social networking website - and especially what we send out via email.

And financial markets professionals are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the best way to avoid controversy is to keep interactions with others via email down to a minimum.

Remember how everyone laughed when we learned a few years back that former Goldman Sachs CEO 'Hank' Paulson never used email ? 'What a luddite!', we exclaimed. But he wasn't. He just saw something very few others did at the time - the unnecessary risks you expose yourself to by sending out an impulsive email. (Interestingly, Paulson carried on with this policy when he became US Treasury Secretary in 2006, and the lack of an email audit trail, which would have been avidly poured over by his many critics, no doubt saved him millions in fighting off dubious legal claims in the wake of the financial crisis).

Then there's the famous Goldman 'LDL' (Let's Discuss Live) email sign off. Used increasingly by Goldman staff over the years, this was originally seen as another example of how Goldman employees and executives would plot and scheme without leaving a trace, but is now regarded more as a sensible policy adopted by those who want to articulate their views properly, and not engage in short email bursts which can be misconstrued and can ultimately threaten a job or career.

'Avoid email at all costs', another banker told us, 'It's not worth it. Our industry lived without it for hundreds of years, and can do so again. It's become a deadly weapon that can destroy reputations and careers. And all at the press of a button'.

 

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