The Habit That Creates a Culture of Distrust at Work

New research reveals how electronic transparency can backfire.

In today’s highly demanding work environment, organizations often rely upon effective collaboration among coworkers to achieve desired objectives.

Among office coworkers, a tool often used to communicate vital information about the team progress and steps to be taken is Email, which could possibly facilitate team effectiveness and transparency. Yet, in electronic communication, it is common to find certain people consistently copying or “cc’ing” the boss into emails between coworkers (I must admit that I‘ve also done this in my own emails to collaborators a couple of times). Even though this might be done with good intentions, a new research shows that doing so has serious implications, as it can create a culture of distrust in the workplace.

In a recent study, David De Cremer, KPMG Professor of Management Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments and surveys to examine whether and how cc’ing one’s supervisor influences organizational trust.

Using data collected from 939 working adults in China, US, UK, and the Netherlands, they found that copying supervisors or superiors into emails between coworkers create distrust between colleagues at work and foster a “culture of fear and low psychological safety” more broadly. The participants felt that Cc-ing the boss signals that the sender (i.e., their coworker) do not trust in their ‘competence,’ ‘integrity,’ and ‘benevolence.’

“The more often you include a supervisor on emails to co-workers, the less trusted those co-workers feel,” says Professor De Cremer in his Harvard Business Review (HBR) piece.

Image Courtesy of Pexels

This illustrates that “electronic transparency can backfire” and as such, suggests that people in managerial positions may need to offer profound policy on including superiors in email communications at work. As the lead author stated: “Organizations will have to explain the purpose of including everyone involved in a project in the communications around it, so that the transparency is not perceived as a way to assess and monitor the performance and behaviors of the people on the team”

So, the next time you think about Cc-ing your supervisor or a superior in an email between coworkers, you might need to ask yourself these two questions “What is the rationale behind this email” and “Is it really worth it.” Remember, we all want to work in an environment where we feel trusted.

Do you agree with this study? or do you copy your superior in emails with coworkers? What is your rationale for doing so?

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