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Next time you bash out an email, think twice before cracking a "joke". Nearly a quarter of employees have suffered "crossed-wires" because colleagues or customers have "misinterpreted" their sense of humour.

And it's men who come off worse, as three in ten chaps admit that their jokes have "back-fired" compared to just two in ten women. More men than women also admitted that they put their foot in it because they mis-handled a "sensitive issue".

According to Dr Monica Seeley, boss of business training outfit Mesmo Consultanc, businesses "thrive as a result of good communication and new technology such as email has revolutionised the way we work. However, whilst this brings business benefits it has also blurred the boundaries of language and etiquette, meaning careful consideration needs to be given to issues such as tone and turn of phrase used in emails."

The research from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is supposed to highlight how "communicating effectively in today's workplace needs careful consideration" since it can, if allowed to go unchecked, lead to disputes, dismissals and tribunals.

Said Employment Relations minister Gerry Sutcliffe: "A more relaxed work culture and a rise in the use of modern technology such as email have resulted in great benefits for business. But get the tone or timing wrong and there could be tensions and a breakdown of communication at an individual level."

Last year, Employment Tribunals dealt with 115,000 claims based on work disputes, from problems over pay and conditions, to racial and sexual harassment. ®

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