HR Headaches: My Manager Wants to Be Copied On All Emails

Managers who demand to be copied on all emails may be contributing to a work environment filled with pressure and distrust.

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Whether it’s a new development or an ongoing request, copying managers on all emails is hated by employees, and rightfully so. When a manager requires oversight of everything employees do, there’s a problem. Either they’re micromanaging and creating an atmosphere of pressure and distrust, or employees are underskilled and undertrained. Either way, constant copying is bad for business.

The practice should be frowned on by companies unless there is a legitimate, specific business reason for the copy. If you’re negotiating contracts or proposals that need to be reviewed by everyone in the chain of command, copies are required. If not, automatic copies destroy respect and damage the culture of an organization.

Having a manager participate in every email presents a variety of problems. Confirming mistrust of your workers, and draining time and resources reading them, are internal issues. Imagine being a client or potential client noticing the constant CC. Would you trust the person you’re working with if their manager clearly doesn’t? It’s a problem both internally and externally that needs to be addressed.

For new hires

Companies frequently request copies of emails sent to the manager before they’re distributed when a trainee is starting out on the job, which is a legitimate training tool. Requesting a copy after the email has been sent isn’t. Once it’s out there, you may still be able to correct mistakes, but the cost will be to embarrass the employee in front of peers or customers. If corrections or adjustments are needed, they should be before hitting send, creating a learning opportunity. They should not be sent after, when they create an opportunity for embarrassment.

If the bulk of an employee’s work is through written communication, you should have carefully screened the new hire for strong skills in this area. Your training protocol should include extensive practice sessions to assure the employee is ready to be on their own. There may be infrequent, unexpected queries they receive that need monitoring: for these, provide sample responses. For more challenging issues, compile a list of the types of inquiries or requests they should ask a manager for help on before they respond.

After training is complete, stop the need to copy the manager. Set a timeline for training, that’s flexible if necessary, but has a definitive end date. Either you’ve trained and trust them, or you need to go back and train more. Providing autonomy to do the work, assistance when there’s something out of the ordinary, and support when it’s above their pay grade are critical to establish trust. This also builds the employee’s confidence and skill set, which is the goal of training.

Providing autonomy to do the work, assistance when there’s something out of the ordinary, and support when it’s above their pay grade are critical to establish trust.

Micromanagement to the max

Micromanagement is at its height to demand employees copy every correspondence to their superior. That fosters an environment of mistrust and suspicion. Why do managers need to know everything that’s being sent? Are these managers actually reading every word? It’s easy to imagine how much time is wasted and how much doubt is fostered by this practice.

The message being sent is clear: I don’t trust you to behave in a professional manner, or trust your skill set accurately represents the company. The fallout will quickly manifest. Top talent who know their worth and value will leave your organization for a company that trusts and supports workers. If you allow managers to continue the practice, you’ll  be left with demoralized staff that isn’t engaged or adding to the bottom line.

When you think it’s necessary 

An employee who repeatedly sends out communications that are riddled with typos or substantial errors may be the reason to request a copy of everything. And that may seem legitimate. But asking for a copy after the email has been sent isn’t solving the problem, it’s just multiplying it. Now you have to correct the employee and clarify to the recipient: the staff member will be humiliated, either internally to their peer(s) or externally to clients.

There are employees who don’t have strong written communication skills, or a good grasp of what they’re doing. They may not have had sufficient training: they may need upskilling on the written word. If you’ve identified one of these staff members, the better option is to build their skill set before they hit send — not tear them down after.

When it’s happening

If it’s happening in your company, find out how managers got involved in reviewing emails. If it was because of internal or external complaints, look for the specific cause of the problem and address it. Is the employee worth retaining? Then train them to build written skills to acceptable levels. You may not have the time to do so, but there are many online courses (some free) you could require they complete to build their skill set.

If their work is wrong — like they’re providing the wrong responses or information — reskilling on policies, procedures, and practices may be required. Look for the reason you need to intervene and resolve that problem. You may find a quick fix: you may find the employee is not salvageable. The solution has to fix problems, not create more — particularly across an entire department if there’s a single area that needs attention.

How ‘copy me eternally’ plays out 

The longer the practice continues, the more talent you’ll lose, and the more your remaining talent will lose their skill set. Why bother proofreading your work if someone else is going to do it for you — even after it was sent. Employees will soon avoid sending messages that are going to be reviewed and critiqued, which could affect productivity.

Employees may stop responding to requests to avoid being over-managed. The ripple effect can go beyond the department, into the entire company. Clients, vendors, and suppliers may see diminished information and responses, which could impact sales and customer retention.

If the work is not critiqued or corrected, employees will wonder what the manager is doing with all that information. Are they compiling a file of errors and omissions to be used at performance evaluation time? Is their job simply babysitting everyone on the team, or reminding staff members they’re not to be trusted? Whether the manager is using the if information or not, the practice undermines employees and the organization.

Make trust your policy

Your company policy should be to trust your employees to do the work you’ve hired and trained them to do. Overseeing every communication infantilizes staff and makes external contacts wonder who they’re doing business with. With the exception of specific types of emails, like contracts or prospectuses, copying the manager every time has a destructive, demoralizing effect. Will employees make the occasional mistake or embarrassing typo? Of course, they’re only human. The remedy is correcting the mistake, not overcorrecting and fostering mistrust.

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