Think twice before CC’ing your boss into emails
In the office of the 21st century, we’ve come to expect transparency, collaboration and teamwork as requirements for a positive working environment.
It’s why collaborative tools like Yammer and SharePoint, which let you easily communicate and share information, are so popular.
But according to a new study published in the Harvard Business Review, managers should know that too much sharing between colleagues may actually undermine office harmony.
A series of six studies of nearly a thousand employees, across four countries into organisational culture, found that copying supervisors into emails with co-workers erodes trust and confidence between colleagues.
Creating a culture of fear
In the first study, 594 office workers were asked to respond to scenarios in which their co-workers always, sometimes or almost never copied in the boss on emails. It found that “the more often you include a supervisor on emails to co-workers, the less trusted those co-workers feel”.
A follow-up survey of 345 participants confirmed the findings. What’s more, the results not only indicated that the employees felt less trusted, but this feeling “automatically led them to infer that the organisational culture must be low in trust overall, fostering a culture of fear and low psychological safety”.
What’s damning is the revelation that when workers imagined copying the supervisor into their email, they knew it would make the recipient feel less trusted. So while some workers might copy in the supervisor out of a genuine regard for transparency, the study suggests it’s more likely “they may be doing so strategically, as they consciously know what the effect will be on you.”
What does this mean for small businesses and managers?
If the goal is to promote efficiency and collaboration, email transparency is clearly backfiring with negative effects on workplace morale.
CGU Executive General Manager of Customer Delivery, Fiona Phillips, says it’s important to build trust within businesses as a foundation to create a strong workplace culture.
“Transparency and trust need to be ingrained throughout a business and managers need to convey this from top down. I think it’s important for them to consider how often they’re included on communication between co-workers as not just a time management issue but also a workplace culture issue. You don’t build trust with authority, you build trust with your actions and behavior,” she says.
Fiona says at an organisation like CGU, “trust is implicit in everything we do – from the way we trust each other to deliver great customer experience to the way we go about helping customers find the right insurance for their needs”.
She says when people feel they are working in a safe environment and when they are supported to succeed but equally supported when they don’t, the “cover your backside” approach of cc’ing emails diminishes.
“After all, it’s only on a foundation of trust and wellbeing that a real collaborative and productive environment can be built.” she adds.