CC’ing the boss makes co-workers feel less trusted, according to a fairly obvious study

Sure, we probably didn’t need a study to tell us what anybody who’s worked with email probably already knew.

In other news, water is wet, the sky is blue, and pancakes are awesome. In news that shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that has email correspondence at their place of employment, copying the boss on emails makes your co-workers feel less trusted. This is the observation gleaned from a study conducted by David De Cremer,  KPMG professor of management studies at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. I probably could have saved David some time and just told him from the beginning: copying the boss on every email is kind of a low move, and it can oftentimes blow up in your face.

To test how people felt when a co-worker copied their boss on seemingly meaningless email correspondence, De Cremer and his associates conducted a series of six studies, including a combination of experiments and surveys.

While our findings are preliminary and our academic paper is still under review, a first important finding was that the more often you include a supervisor on emails to coworkers, the less trusted those coworkers feel. In our experimental studies, in which 594 working adults participated, people read a scenario where they had to imagine that their coworker always, sometimes, or almost never copied the supervisor when emailing them. Participants were then required to respond to items assessing how trusted they would feel by their colleague. (“In this work situation, I would feel that my colleague would trust my ‘competence,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘benevolence.’”) It was consistently shown that the condition in which the supervisor was “always” included by cc made the recipient of the email feel trusted significantly less than recipients who were randomly allocated to the “sometimes” or “almost never” condition.

In my experience, supervisors also get copied when the sender feels they might have the recipient in a bit of a tough situation. Also in my experience, I find that tends to blow up in the sender’s face often enough that the practice is really rarely worth it. Some people just seem to like to feel like they’re tattling on their co-workers I guess.

In addition to their findings of general trust between co-workers, De Cremer also posited that rampant copying of a supervisor is also a pretty huge waste of time, as the supervisor will then need to look through the various emails to see what, if anything, is really needing of their time and attention. De Cremer suggests that supervisors should either intervene when they feel they’re being copied inappropriately or proactively tell their staff at what point they should be brought into a conversation as it relates to specific issues. More often than not, they can probably be left off entirely.

Sure, we probably didn’t need a study to tell us what anybody who’s worked with email probably already knew. But occasionally it helps to study something, even something as seemingly obvious as this, just in case the result isn’t what anybody would think. You can read more about the study at the source link below.

Do you copy your boss or your co-worker’s supervisor on random emails? Why do you do it? Tell us what you think in the comment section below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: Harvard Business Review

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