I’m anxious about my workplace’s use of BCC on emails. What should I do?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, the use of blind copy in emails, struggling with working from home, and speaking up against inappropriate remarks form a boss.

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When I use email, I never BCC (blind copy) anyone since it just seems a bit dishonest. Unfortunately, where I work, BCC is used all the time, and I’m starting to get anxious about who is seeing what. It has been made much worse now that we are all working virtually. I find myself wondering whether my boss is being blind copied in emails, especially if someone is unhappy about something I have done. How can I deal with this?

I am not a fan of using BCC on emails either and I don’t even like it when I am blind copied in someone else’s email. It seems surreptitious and I am always paranoid I will “reply all”. I reckon the only time they should be used is if you are doing a large mail-out to protect privacy.

While on the surface BCCs might seem, to some, a small thing, much of what you are describing is that you feel a loss of trust which is the warning sign of a workplace culture that needs a closer look. I am guessing your boss must know that BCCs are being used, and they may use it themselves, so it is no surprise that you (and I am sure others) feel paranoid about who is seeing what. Do you ever have team meetings where you talk about how things are going and agree on “the way we do things around here”? How would it feel if you were to raise the BCC issue there and see what happens?

I hate working from home. I live in a small, one-bedroom unit on my own and being here all the time is just too much. I know some people seem to love it, but I doubt they are sleeping, working, eating and doing their washing all in the same few square metres. I have tried to tell my boss, but I don’t think he actually understands what it’s like since he lives in a big McMansion in the suburbs. I don’t want to lose my job but am not sure I can keep working where I live. What can I do?

You are definitely in a tough situation and I know there are many others also bearing the brunt of working from home and being isolated, just as you are. I am sorry to hear your boss seems less than compassionate about your situation. Is there anyone else at work you could talk to about your situation?

I know there are many employers who do respect the reality that everyone has a different situation at home, and they appreciate there must be flexibility for those who want to work in the office. It is tough when lockdowns are in place given options are limited, but I would definitely have a conversation with your boss when you can to formulate a plan that would see you primarily working in the office. If that doesn’t work, perhaps you could negotiate a hybrid arrangement where you split your time at home and the office. Good luck!

My boss says inappropriate things all the time. Not to me necessarily, but in front of a group of us he might make fun of someone’s accent he just met, or he might share a view about women that makes us all cringe and roll our eyes. No one ever says anything and we let it slide, but it is pretty awkward. I want to warn my boss that what he is saying is not cool, but I am not sure how he’ll take it. What do you recommend?

As I read your letter and you described this scenario, I felt myself cringing as well. I reckon we have all been in that situation where something is said, we do a massive internal groan, but then we let it slide. What you are describing your boss doing is known as casual racism or sexism, and while it might be easier in the moment to let it go and not rock the boat, we all have a responsibility to speak up.

I have definitely found myself in situations where I have failed to speak up, especially if the person is in a position of power like you describe. They are occasions I am not proud of. But I have also been in situations where I have spoken up and found a way, perhaps later in a one-on-one with the person, to gently let them know that they should be aware that their comments are just not acceptable and that people are feeling uncomfortable. I know it will be hard to do but if your boss is interested in leading a cohesive team, I think he will accept what you have to say. Even if he doesn’t agree, he will think twice before making these comments in the future.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected] Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leader, executive coach and public speaker. Her upcoming book ‘Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership’ will be published by Penguin Random House. You can connect with Kirstin at kirstinferguson.com.

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