employer requires us to include our photo in all emails we send

A reader writes:

Recently, my company added each employee’s I.D. badge picture to their email. This image appears on every email the employee sends and receives. Employees do not have the option to turn this feature off. Several people in our dept., including myself, are uncomfortable with this. When we approached upper management, we were told this was standard practice and very common in business. I have never heard of another company doing this. Is this a common business practice?

What? No, this is weird.

I’m sure they think it’s making the company appear more personable. Companies frequently think that customers want a more personal touch, and then come up with really impersonal ways to implement it, like the grocery store cashiers who are forced to call you by name as they hand you your receipt. (You’re not fooling me, Safeway!  I know you don’t really know me!) I wish that companies would figure out that what most customers want is a competent, efficient, polite experience, not faux friendship.

Whoops, I’ve gone on a rant. Anyway, I suspect that’s what your company is up to.

If you have legitimate security concerns, or the photos cause customers/vendors to start crossing professional boundaries in ways that make you uncomfortable, you should raise it with your boss. Otherwise, I think you probably need to resign yourself to it, in the way that some waiters have to resign themselves to announcing their name when they greet a new table.

But don’t let them tell you it’s standard practice, because it’s not.

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen

    I’ve always hated this idea; I think it’s hokey.

    Having your picture on a company website is one thing – if someone’s looking you up, they do get to put a face with a name. For some reason, that seems less weird to me.

    But having it on all correspondence, proposals, or other documents is really odd – almost creepy. And of course, it introduces all sorts of biases based on personal appearance, race, ethnicity, age, etc. I’m definitely not the type to attribute everything to some form of ‘discrimination,’ but it’s only natural that some small judgments will come about from clients and colleagues seeing your picture.

    Maybe I’m assuming too much here; I’d be curious to know how others feel.

    1. Kevin

      Allow me to introduce this bias into the discussion: I wouldn’t care if my picture were on the e-mail, however I wouldn’t want my (very attractive) wife’s on hers. In a perfect world, it shouldn’t make a difference…

  2. Kristinyc

    Also, a lot of companies have span settings on emails where they can’t receive anything from an external source that has an attachment (and an image in an email would be considered an attachment).

    So, if it’s just internal, that’s one thing, but if it’s for client-facing emails- the recipients may not be getting them.

    1. Natalie

      Most mailboxes have size limits, too. This would cause a big problem at my company, since our size limit is so small -pictures are typically larger than plain text.

    2. Kayday

      +1 to all the comments in this exchange. As someone who had an obnoxiously small inbox until 2010, unnecessary Images are a pain–a pain that often shows up as a blank square.

        1. That HR Girl

          As soon as I read this I thought the OP might be talking about the people pane in Outlook 2010… It is the dumbest thing ever!!
          I could see why it might be a nice thought if you have lots of internal contacts you have never met before but communicate with frequently via email, but it’s hokey.
          A better way of handling that – I have seen some companies recently set up “facebook style” Intranets where if you really want to see what someone looks like and read a little about them, you can go on the Intranet and look. I’ve also seen these where you can post about projects that you’re currently working about, which is fun if you’re in a “non-creative” role to learn about product development and such.

        1. Chris

          I only ones I see are the smaller ones who don’t have budgets to get signs with photos. The larger ones all have them. I think it is useful to have a person to contact if you want to look at the home. Other than that, I have no idea why they want to do it.

          1. Karen

            That’s a good point; I have no idea why they’d want to do this. I just remember those signs/note pads/etc being defaced by the neighborhood kids, anyway!

    1. Josh S

      I think the reason they do that is because there is a perception of very little difference between real estate agents. Most people get an agent because they need someone to get access to houses (listing agents and house sellers are often reluctant to give the keys to a home to some strangers off the street–a buyer’s agent lends some credibility).

      Ideally, a real estate agent gets a reputation for knowing the market and properties very well, and can tailor a home search to save a buyer lots of time, or tailor a listing to highlight the positives to get the best sale price. However, most customers aren’t giving repeat business more than every 10-15 years, and even referrals are pretty few and far between.

      So it comes down to “How does the consumer feel about the agent.” The personal connection and the idea that this person ‘has my best interest at heart and “gets” me’. An impersonal website doesn’t make that connection. A photo doesn’t really either, but people would like to think it does.

        1. Kimberlee

          I have a real estate agent friend that I talked to about this once, and the main thing is because agents have to be all about building a personal brand, because even if they’re affiliated with a company (Like Century 21 or something), they’re responsible for all their own marketing and branding, and have to bring in their own clients. So they’re constantly finding ways to market themselves and differentiate themselves from other agents. I think the same goes for insurance agents too… while they may be a State Farm agent, they only benefit from having that brand attached to their name, they have to foot all their own advertising costs for their own business.

    2. Harry

      Real estate and insurance business heavily relies on referrals. Placing a picture allows people to feel more personal and as a result be more approachable.

      1. Dawn

        I agree. I think the purpose is to create a personal connection. If the person in the photo looks like “mom” or looks nice or trustworthy in general, maybe people will be more likely to call that person, the one they “know,” versus the guy who has just a listing with no photo, the one they don’t “know.”

        1. Lesley

          I think it also has to do with trust. Insurance agents and real estate agents are both professionals you need to trust (that they’re being honest and fair to you), and having that photo might help that.
          I worry about people’s safety though…but I’m a little paranoid. It would make really uncomfortable to have someone I’ve never seen before call me by my name. Creepy!

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Dawn, I do think that’s the reasoning … but then what if the agent is kind of unattractive or weird-looking? Seems like it builds in a lot of unnecessary bias.

          1. Dawn

            Yeah, I tend to think so also. It’s just weird to me. I guess agents probably get more business by building connections and having their picture out there makes them more recognizable.

  3. jmkenrick

    Strange. I think I would find it strange if I received a professional correspondence with someone’s picture in it.

    But then, I’m also not a fan of the Safeway’s name-policy. They never pronounce it right anyways.

    1. Samantha

      I hate Safeway’s policy. I especially hate it when they call me Mrs. when I’m not (no ring on my finger).

      1. Kayday

        I absolutely hate it when people call me my name–a lot of times they get it off the credit card (if there is no customer loyalty card) which makes it even creepier.

      2. Piper

        I hate it when people use my name, too. Mostly because I actually go by my middle name (and anyone who actually knows me knows this), but all of my legal stuff has my first name and middle name. So, strangers call me by my first name and it irritates the crap out of me.

      3. Joey

        Why all the huff about the name thing? It’s very common. Most higher end retail and hospitality companies have been doing this forever. It personalizes the service. Wouldn’t you rather be referred to by name than a generic sir/ma’am?

        1. arm2008

          No, I would not prefer to be referred to by name unless they know me. If I frequent the same coffee shop/bakery/small town grocery over a period of time I would love to have them call me by name.

        2. Kimberlee

          I think there is a difference, too, in going to Tiffany’s and being referred to by name and going to Safeway and being referred to by name. Yes, if you really are trying to provide a luxury shopping experience, go for it (Maurices does a good job of this… if you go in to try on clothes, they write your name in cute letters on the pink dry-erase board on the outside, which is helpful for the employees helping you out and kinda fun and non-intrusive for the customer). But if you’re trying to create the illusion of thus when you’re actually a big grocery store, it’s silly.

          We had to do the name thing at the fast food place I used to work at. If a customer paid by credit card, we were expected to look at it and refer to them by name. I thought it was hella creepy and never did it. I don’t like being referred to by name unless I’m a regular (and I think that rule is pretty generally applicable).

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Interestingly, I hate the thing where they write your name on a dry erase board outside your dressing room! Anthropologie does this, and it always mildly annoys me — it makes the process take longer and seems like a slight invasion of privacy (okay, one without any actual ramifications, but still). It makes me feel like they’re taking up MY time to help with THEIR marketing/brand-building efforts — like when a cashier makes my transaction take longer by asking for my zip code, so their marketing people can analyze shopper demographics. I don’t want my time used that way.

            1. Anonymous

              As someone who is quite shy, I prefer them using my name, especially when they come to check on me. I rather them say “Krista, how’s it going?” than knocking and asking…for some reason my shy self doesn’t like to answer to an anonymous knock because part of me wonders if they’re actually talking to me! lol

              maybe I’m crazy.

        3. Anonymous

          No, I’d much rather be a ma’am. Personalized service has to know something about me. For instance if you were really personalizing service for me you’d know that I’d rather not talk to the person checking me out at the counter I’d rather not have the cashier read my name on my card and pretend that now we are friends. You can be professional and polite and not act like hey we are buddies. You are doing a job, I’m happy if you are doing it effectively and efficiently.

          All this said I know that some corporations require this, like will dock pay of employees who don’t, so I’m always polite to people and never bother to correct their mauling of my name. But the fact that it is a policy means it isn’t very personal

            1. Joey

              Interesting. No Safeways where I’m at, but maybe it’s the clientele. Back in the day when I worked at some high end hotels calling guests (not customers) by name was the expectation. I don’t know if it made them feel more important or what, but you never ever addressed someone generically if you could help it. They expected you to know who they were.

              1. jmkenrick

                Joey, you make a valid point – I work with a lot of restaurants, generally high-end ones, and they make a point of knowing their diners’ names whenever possible. But I feel there’s a difference between client expectations at a Safeway (a huge chain) and expectations at an expensive high-end hotel or restaurant.

                High-end establishments tend to have fewer clients, while prizing the loyalty and satisfaction of those clients much higher. I know a lot of the restaurants I work with really pride themselves on forming long-term relationships with diners.

                Brands like Safeway are large, with an emphasis on maintaining low prices, and so many customers and employees it’s unrealistic that any cashier would ever actually recognize you. People don’t go for the customer service, they go for the convenience. So when Safeway employees call you by your name when you check out, it’s a different experience. First of all, they all use the same script, so it’s obvious that they’re just following orders. And you get the sense that the management is trying to brand themselves as an establishment they’re not – like they think they can trick us into thinking Safeway is our friendly neighborhood market rather than a national chain.

                That sounds very dramatic upon re-reading. But I hope it makes sense.

                (Just to be clear, this doesn’t really bother me that much. But I’ve often felt it’s unnecessary. Bad orders from their marketing department, in my opinion.)

              2. Anonymous

                Brands like Safeway are large, with an emphasis on maintaining low prices, and so many customers and employees it’s unrealistic that any cashier would ever actually recognize you

                Having worked tills in the past, I can assure you that some customers do get recognised even at big chain supermarkets – the customers you don’t don’t want in your checkout line.

            2. Joy

              Your response to anonymous reminds me of your introverted nature, and I’m guessing anonymous has some introverted tendencies as well…

        4. Malissa

          The huff about the name thing, at least for me, is that they never actually say my name. They always say something they sounds like it might start with the first letter of my name, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
          The Safeway in town is the worst. The same cashiers have worked at this store for years. My in-laws have shopped at this store for years. They should know how to say the last name. I gave up correcting them after a year.

        5. jmkenrick

          I prefer a generic ma’am or miss. I don’t get offended or upset when people use my name. The exception to this, naturally, is if it’s an establishment I frequent often enough that they could conceivably recognize me, in which case learning my name & calling me by it is friendly.

          But reading it off my credit card doesn’t add to the shopping experience.

        6. A nony cat

          If I don’t know you, I don’t want you calling me by my name. If I have a specific sales associate helping me (as I may at a high end store), I will introduce myself, at which point I don’t mind. But I don’t like it when they get my name off of my credit card or shopper’s club card and use it. It’s creepy.

      4. Andrew

        I had never heard of this until today. This sound like a horrible and uncomfortable addition to grocery shopping–which is bad enough already. I guess I should be glad there are no Safeways in my area!

    2. Long Time Admin

      I’ve heard of Safeway, but there aren’t any around here, and I don’t know anything about them.

      How do they know your name? That’s just creepy.

      1. Anonymous

        If you have a frequent shopper card with them and enter it in to get the discounts, it prints up on the receipt so when the checker rips the tape off they take a glance at it and thank you and tell you how much you saved.

        I know Safeway is fake. But they do the best job pretending that they give a damn about whether I liked shopping in their store or not. Other big chains in our area like Fry’s…they give me the distinct impression that, if I were to keel over in the aisle, they would be complaining about the inconvenience as they stepped over my prostrate form.

        Safeway mystery shops like fiends, and they give generous bonuses based on good reviews. If you can’t find something in that store they practically give you a recliner, slippers, and a cocktail as they rustle it up for you.

        I know they’re being nice because it can get them money. (I’m in HR, and I asked a local HR rep from the store about it once at a professional gathering.) I don’t care. They pretend to give a hoot much better than anyone else.

    3. Anonymous

      I hate people who read my name off my credit card and use that. It makes me want to use cash.

      I know some stores and lots of food places have those policies. I despise them. To all the coffee shops? My favorite coffee shop knows my order and starts making it as soon as I walk in and knows I’ll sit outside at least until it snows and maybe longer and they don’t know my name. I give them my business.

    4. E

      Hate this at Starbucks too – I love the shock on their face when I tell them my name is “Mocha with whipped cream”

  4. Chris

    On e-mail? Yes, that is weird. However, there are many companies putting in internal sites where you can see who you are writing as well as their coworkers. It is useful if you are on a campus with thousands of other people.

  5. Amber

    It is standard practice to attach a photo of oneself to their resume in Europe. This sounds like someone who is used to that system to me.

    1. GeekChic

      Yeah – but that’s a resume, not email! I’ve worked with several European clients (both continent and UK) and I’ve never seen pictures in email.

      At my current shop, the images wouldn’t display anyway (for spam and storage space reasons) and that setting on an email server is fairly common. Maybe the OP can take some comfort in the fact that not many people will see the picture….

    2. Claudia

      Which part of Europe? I am British and haven’t seen this as common practice. In fact I’ve never seen this. I’ve also worked with many international companies and have not seen this.

      Are you referring to a particular industry?

      1. Claudia

        Oh and also having your picture on resume? I did the recruiting for a company I worked for…..the resumes I saw with pictures were rare and not well received. I wouldn’t say that practice is common.

  6. Suz

    The worst part is they’re using the photo from your ID badge. Who’s ID badge has a flattering picture on it? Mine looks like I’ve been on a 4 day bender.

    1. Piper

      Ditto to this. How awful. My picture on my badge is almost unrecognizable.

      That said, I work in advertising and agencies are notorious for putting pictures and bios on the website (but these are professionally shot photos, not ID mug shots). But I’ve never seen one that insists on using them in e-mail. That’s just silliness.

    2. Dawn

      If they’re going to use a photo, it makes no sense to me that they would want to use a picture that looks like the person is hungover. Wouldn’t that make a bad impression? If they want photos in emails, go hire a photographer and get some decent shots.

  7. Anonymous

    I don’t think the question is technically correct. I’m guessing what the company has done is plugged their photo directory into exchange so that outlook can pull up the pictures. In this case, the photos aren’t being sent with the email.

    1. Shackleford Hurtmore

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking, too – sounds like they’ve upgraded to Office 2010, which shows thumbnail photos of colleagues if that photo is in the corporate directory. It’s actually handy as at a glance you can see who sent any email and who was copied in on it. You can also customise it so that, for example, any email from my second-line manager is accompanied by a photo of the Dilbert Pointy-Haired Boss…

      If that’s what’s being discussed, then as far as I know, the photos don’t actually get sent externally unless you willingly install special Facebook or LinkedIn plugins.

      Would be great to hear whether it’s just mis-understood technology issue, or if the management really are doing something weird.

      1. Shackleford Hurtmore

        Plus, I should mention; at the place where I work, HR announced the feature when it was introduced, and allowed people a grace period to supply their own photo before the standard security badge one was used.

      2. Kimberlee

        Although OP did mention that they talked to their managers about it already… I assume that if there were a tech mixup the manager would have known and told them.

  8. Anonymous

    This sure does hit home. I was harassed and stalked by a man who saw my employee picture on our company website and became fixated on me. I have a concealed carry permit now! I’m a young woman but I know this sort of thing can happen to anyone. I would definitely not be cool with attaching my photos to emails!

    1. Joanna Reichert

      Wow – that’s scary.

      I’m not a fan of the Super Security World we live in – which is false, because people are nuts and if they want to cause harm they will, regardless of laws, etc. – but holy cow, don’t start trouble where you don’t have to.

      Unless it’s truly an inter-office feature and doesn’t display to customers – but from the OP’s wording, it does. There’s no need for photos in the majority of business correspondance.

      If the company is worried about seeming less than personable, then get some generic images of customer service folks and salesmen on the website.

  9. Anonymous

    I submitted this question. Thanks to everyone who has responded! I would like to address some specifics:

    We have been told this is for internal use only within our company. The company has 1000+ staff. The company already uses a seperate application where you can pull up any staff member’s name, job title, and photo so many see this addition to our email as unnecessary.

    @ Suz: Yes, I.D. Photos are the worst!

    @ Anonymous: Yes, this is part of our Outlook. The default setting on our Outlook pulls the picture up every time you open an email unless you manually turn it off. You can only turn off the images you see. You cannot turn off your image so others do not see it.

    @ Shackleford: This was unannounced and we were not given the opportunity to submit photos. Had they done that, I think the response would have been better, but the concerns about discrimination based on personal appearance remain.

    1. fposte

      I understand why that would be annoying (and points to the first person to find a way to reconfigure the image setting), but I’m not seeing the additional discrimination risk. It’s an in-house system that links images to emails when you’re communicating with one another in the company, right? Hasn’t the appearance ship already sailed on co-workers?

    2. Dawn

      If it’s for internal use only, I don’t see the issue really. Actually, I don’t think it’s a bad idea in a company with 1000+ employees. In a company that large it likely helps people put a name to a face and get to know other people in the company. Although, since you mention there’s a separate application where you can see the staff member’s info and photo, it does seem redundant.

  10. Emily

    It sounds obnoxious to me (I prefer minimalist emails) but it wouldn’t be my hill to die on personally. I agree with AAM that it’s not standard practice though, I’ve never heard of this before.

  11. Harry

    After a recent upgrade to Microsoft LiveMeeting, our profile picture is displayed next to the “who is online” section at the bottom of the shared desktop. I don’t have an issue with this except that I am a senior manager and am considered young (just turned 32!). I sometimes wonder what people are thinking as I am meeting and giving input to people who are almost double my age!

  12. JT

    For internal email within a large company I think this is actually an excellent idea. I’m reminded of Skype calls where even w/o video in use, seeing the other person’s image is useful.

    Images in emails will become more common in a few years as the practice migrates from Gmail and social networking to more forms of email.

    It is certainly not standard practice at the moment, but in terms of forward-looking thinking about communications, this is it. Maybe too forward at the moment, but it’s coming.

  13. Snippet

    My company is starting to do this too (through Outlook). I don’t see how it’s relevant to age/gender/whathaveyou discrimination…since it’s only internal people that can see it – they’d run into you in the hallway, in meetings, in the coffee room anyway. It’s kind of handy if you are working in a big company, and don’t get to mingle in person with many co-workers.

    In this day and age of LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s becoming more and more the norm to have an ID photo popping up as associated with your name. I’m pretty neutral on it.

    1. gingerR

      We just started using a package called salesforce.com that’s facebook-like and I uploaded a photo.

      It’s more personal.

  14. Joshua

    I’ve received a couple emails in my lifetime that have a small photo as part of the signature. Not common, but I’ve seen it. It’s creepy. Each time.

  15. Anonymous

    I work in a department that gets most of the company internal email and reroutes it as assignments. This is creepy as f*ck. We even call others in the department (common if we don’t know what to do with something) “hey Madge, take a look at that second attachment on the email I have” just to creep each other out. And no, it is not normal. Companies please get hair / makeup / photos professionally done if you insist upon doing this.

    1. Anonymous

      “I work in a department that gets most of the company internal email and reroutes it as assignments.” Minus internal… most of the company email…

  16. Liz in a Library

    We do this at my workplace, but only on internal e-mails. I also find it weird and wish we could opt out if we are uncomfortable with our picture on display.

  17. Christine

    I work for a very large company (100,000+ employees), and this Outlook feature was deployed a few months back. Everyone had the opportunity to opt out or choose their own image. I personally love it. Working with so many people all over the world, most of whom I have never met in person, it’s totally great to see their faces and put that with their voices I hear on the phone.

    Then, on the other hand, it’s really depressing to look at my photo and remember that just a few years ago, I didn’t need glasses and wasn’t so aged from stress.

    For the person with the original question, certainly the company handled this in pretty much the worst possible way. But handled well, it can be very good for morale to remember that it’s a human being on the other side of that demanding email.

  18. E

    “You’re not fooling me, Safeway! I know you don’t really know me!”
    OMGosh – So funny-I cracked up when I ready that as I feel the same way, kind of creepy really. I also don’t like having to interface with the cashier at Albertsons and go through the standard social greeting metrics (nice weather, etc.) – geez, I just want some milk, I don’t come in here because I’m lonely

    1. JustShopping

      “geez, I just want some [groceries], I don’t come in here because I’m lonely”

      VERY well said.

      Safeway calls customers by whatever name is on the receipt, (which is time-consuming as they have to hold the receipt to the light, gather their thoughts, and read the name, while I could be outside in the car already). Sometimes this name-calling has hilarious effects. E.g. I used to use my boyfriend’s card and his name is clearly a man’s name, but they called me Ms. [his last name] and I had no plans to wed the dude!!!

      And they always ask: “Do you need help outside?” even if you buy a stick of gum. Yeah, you can help me get outside by not retaining me in your friggin’ store just so you can read off the random name printed on the receipt!!!!!

      (And what about the “Would you like to donate” line. By buying there, I am adding to their profit. They can share some of it with whatever needy causes they choose, instead of panhandling the very customers from whom they profit.)

      Yes, some companies are coming up with phony ways to ‘relate’ to customers that feel increasingly creepy and “cable guy”-style. They make me want to run elsewhere.

      1. Jamie

        I cannot tell you how irritated I am to have to wait while they try to figure out how to pronounce my last name…then butcher it while yes, asking me (a healthy and able-bodied person with a an even healthier and more able bodied 17 year old son) if we need help out to the car. For one bag containing a pint of half and half and one coffee cake.

        The guy offering to help me out was at least 170 years old.

        Safeway REALLY needs to change their policies on this, or I will get a new card with my maiden name-married name and then it will take a good 12 hours for anyone to pronounce the whole thing.

  19. Smee

    Technically, and depending on where you are you might have protection from the Data Protection Act which prohibits the use of personal data which could lead to someone being able to identify your ethnicity etc….
    I think your employer would need your permission to use your photo or if not would need to change your contract to express this as a requirement of the post. (and could actually still breach the DPA)

  20. Random

    I know this is an old thread .. but we have pictures attached to our internal email only! (So clients won’t see the photo .. but everyone in the firm will!)

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