Don't Bring Down Your Mail Server with Reply All

Last Updated Jul 13, 2009 11:12 AM EDT

From the mailbag:
Dear E-mail Etiquette Guy: Recently, one employee sent an e-mail to the whole corporate distribution list. Many employees Replied All to more than 100K employees. I decided to take the lead in informing everyone that the mail was a mistake and to stop responding to it.

Unfortunately, this made it worse -- my inbox got clogged with more responses, out of office messages, and undeliverable notifications. What should I have done?

That question, from reader coltos, came in the comments of my recent post on how to avoid annoying your boss and co-workers with e-mail snafus. And since I have a Ph.D in e-mail etiquette, I've got the answer right here.

It's a great question, because the cost of one stupid company-wide or division-wide e-mail can be staggering -- ignore the load on the server and just consider the time it takes 100K people to deal with the message. But image hundreds of in-duh-viduals hitting Reply All. If enough people climb onto the genius train, it is literally enough to bring down a server.

The right thing to do? Nothing. That's right, folks -- no matter how badly you want to Reply All to either (1) tell the world to stop replying to it or (2) tell Patient Zero about the basics of e-mail etiquette, don't. Any Reply All will significantly exacerbate the problem and prevent the thread from petering out of its own momentum.

Instead, you might want to send a private reply -- not a Reply All. A few dozen e-mails politely calling you a moron is a great learning tool. And what about all the e-mail you're getting? Create a quick rule to send that thread to the trash, so new messages don't clog your inbox. (Watch a video about creating Outlook rules.)

And don't sweat it; the thread will be dead by this time tomorrow.

Photo by laughlin