Workplace Doctor: Use BCC on email with great caution – or face the consequences

Is it appropriate to blind CC our manager on emails between myself and the rest of the team? IG, Dubai

Professional email etiquette in today’s modern workplace is as important, if not more important than everyday manners. How we conduct ourselves through the medium of email is vital, as without the support of verbal and visual cues to get our message across, we are more vulnerable to being misinterpreted. The language we use, the underlying tone of voice, and who we decide to include in CC and in BCC are all key triggers to whether the information lands positively or negatively.

I find it just as challenging identifying who the most appropriate people are to include in an email, as it is to work out what needs to be said. I have also been on the receiving end of emails from colleagues and clients, with a number of people included for purposes unknown to me.


Sometimes it can be as simple as the sender wanting to keep everybody informed, but it can also be read in a more negative manner and can raise all sorts of questions about the sender’s motives. Is the sender covering his or her own back? Or trying to expose a colleague or put them on the spot? Or do they genuinely just want to keep everybody in the loop. Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, it can be really difficult to decipher the senders’ true intentions as we find ourselves trying to read between the lines. At the heart of all of this lies the BCC function – the ultimate in undercover surveillance.

BCC stands for “blind carbon copy,” and is a way of copying people privately into an email without the knowledge of the other recipients. Any email addresses in the BCC field will be invisible to everyone else on the email. In other words, it’s like CC, but for covert spies. It gives you the power to put someone else undercover and misuse of this can cause quite serious issues in the corporate environment.

The concept of the BCC originally applied to paper correspondence and has now been translated over to email. I think the challenge now is how to use this function correctly and ethically, and with the appropriate etiquette.

There are a few genuine reasons to blind copy people in an email. For example, when you are sending a mass email to a group of people who do not know each other. They may not want their email addresses shared, or necessarily want people to know they are included in the correspondence. BCC can also help to prevent the spread of computer viruses, spam and malware.

Misuse of the email tool however, can in fact be quite unethical. It can be used as a method of surveillance and micromanagement, and can make personal correspondence less transparent, make meeting invites seem sneaky and turn co-workers into paranoid double agents.

When thinking about whether to include your manager in on emails between yourself and your team, it would be useful to know more about the context of these emails. If it were used as an outlet for updating them on general progress and the objectives you are requesting from your team in their everyday activities, I would definitely say no. This type of behaviour does not only implicitly undermine your team, implying they are not to be trusted to deliver on their objectives, but it also undermines your own competence as a manager.

By needing to keep your manager informed of every single correspondence, you are not taking responsibility for the success or failure of your team. Imagine being back in school and being the child who constantly called the teacher to tell tales on the rest of your classmates – not a popular move.

Building up your credibility as a leader requires you to show you can handle everyday issues yourself. I don’t think you call your manager in for every conversation you have with your team, so why do it when the communication is in the documented form. Equally, one slip and “reply all” from your manager could be exposing for you and completely blow his cover. So I urge you to apply this potentially deadly tactic with caution.

Being included in the BCC field of an email is a sacred trust. If you do include your manager as BCC in an email to the team or team members it should be the exception rather than the rule. It may be that you are making them aware of a project’s positive progress or more likely keeping them informed of the steps you are taking to manage a team member’s underperformance. However, for me before the email is even formulated, I would be hoping you were having conversations with that individual and possibly your own manager. Alternatively if that is not possible, have the courage to put your manager in CC or send them a separate email updating them of the situation.

Doctor’s prescription:

BCC can be a deadly tactic used to damaging effects in the world of corporate espionage. If you are going to hit that button, then do it for the right reasons. There are some serious consequences if it goes wrong. My advice is rather than Blind Copy, have the actual conversations with your manager and with your team and create an overt rather than covert culture in your organisation.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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