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"Ego Mail": how employees are trying to get ahead


There's a new form of harassment in the workplace showing its head.

Ego Mail is a relatively newer activity, now classified as a proverbial 'thing', and it's on the rise.

It's a potential 'red flag' companies need to be on the lookout for, that falls under the abuse and harassment category of ethical violations.

What is ego mail? According to a Cambridge University study, it's when one employee sends an email to another employee while copying their manager.

That sound pretty innocent enough.

But that depends on the culture of an organization.

For those organizations where the culture clearly states that transparent communication is a means to achieve higher-level goals, and where all employees are crystal clear on the organization's position and goal on transparent communication, cc'ing management on emails should be seen as an effort to ensure everyone is aligned and working from the same page.

But many organizations aren't quite on that level of transparent communication, and for them, the more often a supervisor or manager is included on emails to coworkers, the less trusted those coworkers feel.

The issue is that these emails might be meant to flag to the boss that the other employee has done something wrong, isn't doing their job correctly, and/or gives the sender an opportunity to show off.

The study shows just how easily public emails can turn into a form of public shaming and it certainly raises a red flag.

Some managers might know when this is happening so they can take action and prevent further tension between employees. But in many cases, it might not be so obvious.

There may be a deeper reason the employee is sending emails cc'ing management. It might show lack of confidence of that employee, and they may not be comfortable coming forward, so they choose a more passive-aggressive manner.

Many companies are now turning to collaboration software like Office 365 and Slack in an effort to promote communication and productivity. The purpose of these tools is to allow better quality working relationships and increased transparency by including all stakeholders.

Because these types of platforms operate on a lesser expectation of privacy than email does, and those using the software may act differently compared to when using email, some finding show that transparency can still backfire.

It serves as a great reminder that as times change, technology and how it's used also changes, and so too should policies and procedures that cover how to use the technology the company employs and its expectation for employee usage.

A Code of Conduct should be a living, breathing document that changes with the times. This is the place where companies can explain the purpose of using new communication platforms, and the purpose of including everyone in a project and the communication around it. This way, transparency isn't perceived as a way to monitor performance and behaviour in a negative way.

And as always, employees needing to report on wrongdoing or other questionable behaviour, should be able to do so anonymously, either through an internal, or third-party ethics hotline.


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photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.