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You've Got More and More Mail!

Q. Six of us work for one manager, and another manager has five people working for him. These two managers compete for the VP’s attention and some of it rubs off on our two teams. Most of us try to ignore the drama, but the one thing that drives me nuts, and a few of the others, is everyone copies everyone else on emails discussing what needs to be done, or what has been done, or what they think. I get enough real email as it is. I really don’t need to read what else is going on, or have everything I do sent around to two managers just so people can play “CYA” just in case, or one upping. Aren’t there rules for this?

A. Most organizations and companies do have formal and informal rules for the use of email. There are also people who choose to follow the cultural norms and others who just do what they want until they are reminded about the purpose of the tool and how to use it.

Email is a standard in all companies and many peoples’ personal lives as well. Spam filters are wonderful, and they do continue to get more accurate at eliminating unsolicited offerings at work and home which is a time saver. Now if these same filters can screen out emails with pictures of kittens and requests to send something back so people know how loved they are, we might be able to go through our email in half the time.

Typically it is understood that your business email is for professional use only, however many people use their business email address for personal use as well. The latter is viewed by many organizations as a productivity buster. However, you have identified one of the greatest practices to negatively impact to productivity – sending emails people do not need to get, do not need to read, do not need to do anything about, and do not need to respond to.

Email can be used to communicate a need for action by the reader or actions by multiple readers, a specific piece of information, or a question needing a response. What email doesn’t need to be used for is on ladder climbing, career protection, or an open invitation for comments from all on every area of business.

Managers can set the tone for how email is used. Some organizations have cultures where emailing is considered impolite when people are in the same building. Their process says first see the person to communicate, then call, then message, and lastly email. Email is not the first mode of communication used, and people new to the culture who think they will increase their productivity by taking the email short cut are quickly educated about the accepted protocols.

If the managers are leading the way with the emails to all, it may be more difficult to modify behaviors. You can start by reviewing what your manager wants to be copied on by you. Managers have varying levels of “need to know”. Some managers do want to see emails, but more effective managers are looking for compiled reports which screen out extraneous information, and do not involve email trails. You might offer a suggestion about what you believe will be most effective for your own communication with your manager. If that goes well, you and your manager can then have a similar conversation with your colleagues about ways to increase productivity by limiting indiscriminate copying of emails. Perhaps you can convince your manager and colleagues increased productivity is the way to capture the VP’s attention, not more emails.

If your manager is convinced this massive redundancy is effective, consider using email less, and communicating by meeting, phone appointments, and voicemail more often.

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