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Here’s why you shouldn’t tell staff to Bcc you in emails

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If you’ve ever told your staff to Bcc you in emails, now’s the time to stop.

According to a series of five studies led by Cambridge Judge Business School researchers, the use of Bcc made recipients evaluate the sender as less moral, more secretive, and more intimidating than if they were to use the Cc function.

In a new article in Harvard Business Review, the researchers outlined that work colleagues accepted there are valid administrative reasons for using Bcc – such as to “update the supervisor in such a way that they know their reply to the email is not required” or not wanting to “share the contact information of the supervisor and run the risk that the supervisor will be contacted directly”. However, when the sender retroactively mentioned either of these two reasons, recipients’ negative perceptions did not soften.

The series of five studies on various aspects of Bcc use involved 694 working adults with at least 10 years of average working experience. Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • People consider Bcc-ing a supervisor as less moral, more secretive, and more intimidating than Cc-ing a supervisor.
  • Valid reasons for people using Bcc include administrative reasons like to “update the supervisor in such a way that they know their reply to the email is not required” or not wanting to “share the contact information of the supervisor and run the risk that the supervisor will be contacted directly”.
  • The use of Bcc (compared to the use of the more-transparent Cc function) made recipients evaluate the sender as less moral — and less fit to be the team leader. Even when the sender retroactively mentioned the two administrative reasons for using Bcc, recipients’ negative perceptions did not soften.
  • As compared to Bcc-ing, people significantly prefer forwarding emails to superiors after it has been sent off to other recipients. They also perceive forwarding emails to be less harmful, even though recipients continue to perceive the sender as having immoral intentions.

The studies were conducted by David De Cremer, KPMG professor of management studies at Cambridge Judge Business School; Jack McGuire, research assistant and experimental lab manager at Cambridge Judge; and Dr Tessa Haesevoets, postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University in Belgium. Participants were recruited via online system Prolific Academic (ProA).

When it comes to the implications of these findings for organisations and supervisors, researchers noted some key things:

  • Bcc-ing the supervisor is best avoided.
  • Although Cc-ing the supervisor is a more acceptable strategy, it can still elicit uncomfortable and negative feelings, sending a threatening signal to coworkers, undermining the trust within teams as found in an earlier research.
  • Forwarding emails may present a solution to the Bcc problem. However, it introduces its own set of issues and is not a flawless method.

They concluded: “An effective solution could be to rewrite an email to personally address a team supervisor. Such an email could be framed as an update and would achieve the administrative goals of Bcc-ing — to keep the supervisor up to date — without alienating the rest of the team.”

Another suggestion by the team at Human Resources would be to have a weekly meeting with your team where updates can be delivered face-to-face, avoiding the email miscommunication problem altogether. Apart from that, weekly meetings also help increase productivity, create a culture of feedback, and reduce stress.

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