cc’ing managers when you email your coworkers

This was originally published on September 30, 2011.

A reader writes:

I work in a professional school within a very large private university. Our campus is home to several schools, and a number of facility-type departments (IT, buildings & grounds, etc.) are shared between the different schools.

A colleague of mine had been trying repeatedly to contact one of these departments to set up a time-sensitive training for some new employees without receiving a response. The requests were sent a departmental email address rather than an individual, and this department is notorious for being difficult to get the attention of. He turned to me for help as I deal with this department more frequently. I did what I usually do to ensure a quick reply–I CC’ed my colleague, his boss, my boss, and my boss’ assistant. You see, my boss and my colleague’s boss are high-level administrators within our school (second only to the dean), and a complaint about non-responsiveness would be taken very seriously from them.

I received a response almost instantly–a response that only included myself and my colleague–so I know they aren’t appreciative of my passive-aggressive threats. Frankly, this is the only way I can get this department’s attention, so I don’t feel too bad about doing it. But I am curious as to what you think. Am I being out of line even though I feel I have no other choice? Is this better or worse than including that department’s overseer on the email (their manager receives the emails sent to the departmental email, so he already knows about this behavior)? Are there situations where this is more acceptable?

Well, it is passive-aggressive and won’t win you any friends. It basically says, “I don’t trust you to be able to do your job on your own, so I’m pulling in other people from the get-go to make sure that you feel a whip cracking over you.  P.S. You’re lazy and possibly incompetent.”

Of course, you don’t trust them to do their job otherwise, because they’ve shown you that you shouldn’t. But I’m curious about why you don’t just address the problem directly. A department that’s unresponsive is a pretty big problem, and it’s one that’s worth addressing in a real, substantive way. (That won’t necessarily win you any friends either, but it’s still a better approach.)

Go over there and talk to the people causing the problem:  “Hey, Joe, we’re finding when we send emails about X or Y, we often don’t hear back from you guys, which keeps us from being able to do Z. What can we do differently so that we’re able to get the answers we need?”

(By the way, “what can we do differently?” is polite code for “you need to do something differently.” It works in all kinds of situations. Try it!)

If the problem continues after that, then you need to alert your boss. Say something like this: “We routinely have a lot of trouble getting any response from Department X. We’ve talked to them about it but it hasn’t solved the problem. In fact, I find they only respond when I cc you. I don’t want to rely on that as a means of getting things done, so I wonder if it would make sense for you to talk to (Department X’s manager) and see if there’s a way to get more responsiveness from them.”

If your boss is any good, she’ll deal with this from there. If she’s not any good and thus doesn’t deal with it, then at that point your only remaining choice is indeed to cc the people who will ensure that you get what you need. But try these other options first.

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. SerfinUSA*

    I wonder if we work at the same university :)
    I know many people who resort to this tactic when dealing with certain ‘notorious’ departments on campus. Higher ups in my workplace even recommend doing this so the recipient knows they can’t blow off the communication. It’s annoying, but sometimes the only way to get things done in a timely fashion.

    1. Mimi*

      I don’t work for a university and yeah, this is the recommended way to deal with this issue. Also how we dealt with this at my last two companies.

  2. SnarkyAccountant*

    Being in a position where I’m constantly making un-fun requests (for timesheets, expense reports, collections payment status, info we need for financial statement deadlines), I know what it’s like to be ignored! I usually make my best efforts to get the info on my own once or twice over email and wait for a response within a reasonable timeframe (a few days to a week), and then if it still goes unanswered, I cc the person’s manager as well as my own. That usually tends to work, but I don’t do it unless I have to.

  3. Lily in NYC*

    I’ve done this before, but only as a last resort and when I have made repeated attempts (in person, by phone and email) to get a response. Where I work, doing what Alison suggested would be be frowned upon (not that I don’t like the advice; it just wouldn’t fly here because our managers have no interest in dealing with this kind of thing and would consider it a sign of our not being able to do our job).

    1. JB*

      Wait–talking to the people who don’t respond about the problem directly would be a sign of you not being able to do your job? Wow, that does not seem like good management.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I read it as Alison suggesting talking to our boss about the non-responsive department. That would not come across well. But you are right about poor management. My incredible boss left 6 months ago and things are spiraling down the drain in my division.

    2. Layla*

      We have the same issue at our organization. This advice won’t work here either, because several managers, including mine, have the same mentality of your manager, and the unresponsive employees in those departments unfortunately are secured in their positions unless their managers leave.

  4. Suzie Q*

    I can totally relate to the OP here! There is one department that me and my team need to work with all the time that is so incredibly difficult to work with. Unfortunately, my boss totally knows about the problem but can’t do anything to change it. The other department head is widely acknowledged to be total mess who lets her staff get away with anything but for some unknown reason our President won’t get rid of her — can you say dysfunctional organization?

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Yeah but if that approach is already working fine right now, then why change it? I know it’s heavy-handed, but that’s the point. You wouldn’t have to resort to such drastic behavior in the first place if they were doing their jobs.

    Where is the onus when it comes to this training? I wouldn’t consider it on my shoulders.

    For example, right now I’m responsible for training people on our new website. I’ve emailed a guy (in IT no less!) who not only needs login credentials and general training but technical training too. I’ve emailed him since March with no response.

    When we launch next week, he’ll start getting a zillion requests to do stuff on a system where he doesn’t even have an account. That will be his problem, not mine, especially as I’ll be too busy to deal with him by then.

    I gave him a chance, but I’m not his mom. I’m not begging him either. He knew all about this, similar to the LW’s situation. Let him suffer the consequences.

    1. fposte*

      Because “working fine” for the OP isn’t the same as working fine for everybody. If her department and the university are on board with this approach, that’s one thing, but often departments have to get along with each other well through tricky situations, and having admins sniping at each other makes that unnecessarily harder.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        See I don’t consider that sniping. I would consider it doing what it takes to get the job done. And while I like the suggestion here, I question where the burden should be in the LW to fix it.

        If I’m not responsive to you when you need me, whose fault is that?

        1. fposte*

          For being unresponsive? It’s my fault. For your hiring a skywriter, blowing a vuvuzela at me that pisses off everybody in the office, or involving my dean? It’s your fault.

          That’s where the problem lies–the response to poor behavior can be more problematic than the poor behavior, and that’s on the responder. Your job matters less to the department than your dean’s job, and if the way you get your job done makes your dean’s job more difficult, that’s a mistake. The goal isn’t simply to get for the employee to get the job done, it’s to help the organization, and it’s quite possible for some getting the job done methods to serve the individual employee but not the individual organization.

          1. J-nonymous*

            Precisely! Escalating every single request (which is what the OP is doing using the current approach) doesn’t really help anyone. It elevates any routine request to higher level of importance and scrutiny, creates hostility between departments (potentially, at least), and doesn’t address the heart of the issue which is “what’s the process for this type of request, and when can I expect my request to be answered?”

    2. The Real Ash*

      I agree, at some point you have to stop holding people’s hand. If you have made a reasonable attempt to help them (e.g. given them the steps necessary to get login credentials, or emailed them a reminder about a deadline for submitting an expense report, whatever), the onus isn’t on you to continue to coddle them. If we were talking about an intern or a young worker who needs a little more guidance on proper workplace mores / behavior, that’s one thing. But if you have an “experienced” adult worker who has been doing this whole “having a job” thing for a while now, there’s no need to be required to baby them.

      Although if their behavior impacts you directly, stand up for yourself with direct, but polite confrontation, like what Alison says. Only after that should you bother the management.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Besides, like you said, we are all adults here in a work environment. It’s a given that your attention will be needed indifferent aspects of your job.

        Expecting other people to remind or harass you on simple requests speaks to a way bigger problem here. One that the LW shouldn’t be solving!

    3. Carpe Librarium*

      The trouble is, it won’t be ONLY his problem. It will also be a problem for every person who needs him to action their request in order to do their job efficiently.
      If you know he won’t have the access he needs when the website goes live, then you forsee a problem but are taking no steps to mitigate it. Following Alison’s advice and raising it with your manager or his (depending on your position and the politics of your departments etc) is part of your job.

      1. Snarcus Aurelius*

        I have emailed, called, and even stopped him in the hall. (He doesn’t do human interaction well, which is why I pushed more over email.) And yes my boss knows about this, and her attitude is the same as mine. We have too much other stuff to do than beg this guy to get back to us.

        Aside from taking an ad out on the billboard next to the office building, what else am I supposed to do?

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    I only do things like this after repeated attempts to get a response. If they get ticked off, too bad. If they’d responded to any one of my numerous requests for help (via email, voicemail, drive-by when I happen to see you in the hall, whatever) then I wouldn’t have to resort to the tattle-tail email, which is essentially what this is.

    If you don’t want your boss cc’d on your emails, then respond to people within a reasonable amount of time. Even a response saying, “Hey, I’m swamped at the moment but I promise I’ll get back to you by X date,” is just fine. That tells me the recipient has read my email, can’t deal with it right now, but will when he or she is able. No problem.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I once had a boss who continually overlooked my emails. I had to remind him a billion times out things. I was especially ticked when the “How come I didn’t know about this?” nonsense came up in performance reviews. And that’s even when I had written proof.

      “I never saw that email. You need to call me or tell me I person.” “I did. I stopped you in the hall Monday, and I left you a VM yesterday.”
      “I don’t remember those. You not giving me updates is a problem.”

      I almost said, “Do you want me to tattoo it on your bald head so you’ll never forget?”

      1. Angora*

        This is why I like requesting the read receipts on Outlook e-mails. You have documentation that they read it. I use the follow-up & reminder features on Outlook. Especially for myself; than it’s right in my list of tasks for that day.

        On top of outlook e-mail … click follow-up; than click reminder. You choose the flag with date and time to remind yourself and you can do the same with the precipitants. It can FYI; etc. Wish they had “action required by” but oh well. Normally I do not do the flag for receiptants reminder …. can be truly offensive unless you have a good relationship. But if they are a problem dept / individual that dumps it on you when they fail on the follow-up; cover your rump.

        Some places you can send tasks on outlook; but I wouldn’t recommend it. That really offends people.

        1. Scott M*

          If you have the preview pane open on Outlook, someone can read your email but never open it. And you won’t ever get a read receipt. This can cause problems if you stew while waiting for them to open the email but they have already read it.

      2. Anon18*

        This also happened to me. The best thing to do is leave or transfer to a different department as you’re being scapegoated by a lazy and/or incompetent boss. It will keep coming up in performance reviews and meetings. No matter what you do, you cannot force your boss to do their job. They are either slacking on all the people who report to them or just you, either way they’re a terrible manager. I guarantee emails from the customers or their boss aren’t going unread. I was actually told by a very high up coworker that it was my fault for not managing-up my boss. Apparently I should have taken his hand, opened the email with his mouse and read it to him while videotaping the entire thing.

        In my situation I had never seen a case of ‘sporadic amnesia’ before (or since) so I was actually stupid enough to call my boss out on his problem. My boss liked to pretend he was this jovial older guy who simply forgot/didn’t read certain emails/fat fingered over the new emails to make them appear they’d been read/forgot reminder conversations the second they ended, and as his employee you should be aware of this and work around it. Fine. Why someone who cannot remember to check their email on a regular basis or remember something longer than 5 minutes was in charge of a department was never fully explained.

        However, if he had a chance to nail someone to the wall for something said 3 years prior he suddenly had the memory of an elephant. If they tried to back out of it he would bang on about how he remembered it perfectly and they said X not X+1. Why are they saying X+1 now? Why are they lying?

        The best one was when we had a departmental meeting on a Monday to discuss a report’s findings, then on Thursday in another meeting my boss claimed 1-he had never seen the report let alone read it (despite participating in the meeting earlier that week) and 2-we were all lying/wrong. All 10 of us. An entire department was suddenly suffering from a folie à plusieurs.

  7. Just Me*

    I have a co-worker who cc’s our supervisor on almost all communication to me, a peer and to other peers. I have never NOT responded to this person’s email. It’s snarky that this is done. This kind of nonsense ranks right up there with sending read receipts. I’m tempted to ask this person why but the co-worker and boss are buds.

    In the case of the OP, it’s been my experience that it’s necessary to cc the supervisor as a last resort when timely information is needed. When you talk to co-workers about not responding – it doesn’t help. You almost always have to involve the supervisor.

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      You might work with me and I’m sorry about that, but your boss got PO’d when I was asking you for stuff and he didn’t know about it.

    2. Mallory*

      Sometimes at university departments it helps to cc the departmental administrative assistant on the second request. That is a step below cc’ing a supervisor, but it might be effective in getting something done. I’m the admin in my department, and I get cc’d periodically when people are not getting a response (usually from a faculty member). I will follow up with the faculty member, and they will then do whatever it was they were supposed to do.

      1. sophiabrooks*

        I would agree- I also am a university admin. Although frankly, the ccing thing is SO prevalent at my university to deal with non-responsive departments that I think universities are just filled with this sort of thing that would not be tolerated in other areas.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          +1

          If you want something done at a university, very very often, you have to mail the department admin person along with the chair.

    3. D*

      When I was a contractor at one org, my manager wanted me to cc her on nearly every email correspondence I sent out. It was a bit micro-manage-y. I also think it sent the wrong message to others who were probably wondering why I was including my manager in correspondence, as if it were a situation that could potentially be escalated, or needed to be closely monitored, or she did not trust me. Actually she and the org loved my work. I also possessed skills and experience that the department did not have. I could have easily done this role without her, but I think it was for her to look like she was in charge of the project.

      As a contractor, I just grinned and beared it. If I was a full-time employee, I would have definitely said something about changing that.

      1. Anon*

        This. My manager wants to be copied on everything, and is annoyed when others don’t copy her in their emails to me (or me in emails to her). Things often move quickly in our line of work, and this manager sees it as a way for both of us to be in the loop and be more responsive (whomever is the first available responds). It would not be my system, but I understand the practicality. And this manager assumes other managers have the same preference, so I am expected to copy them too. If I can, I give people a heads-up so they know the manager’s preferences are not a reflection of them – but it is not always possible.
        However, it looks like you and this person have the same manager, so there is probably soemthing else going on.

  8. Pleasefilloutthisfield*

    This is a little overkill. Copying four other individuals? I can see copying one boss, but this is a bit much. I wonder if they all really like being coped on these messages. I’d suggest figuring out who would be the best individual and just go with that.

    That being said, if I was copied on one of these, I would most likely ignore it, or ask not to be copied on this communication. If I was feeling passive aggressive, I just might reply all! (Haha, no I wouldn’t do that)

    1. Julie*

      Plus, in Outlook 2010 (and probably other versions), you can “ignore” a conversation. I use this when I am copied on messages that keep going back and forth with additional questions/information each time, but it’s something that I don’t need to deal with. This is just easier than asking people to take my name off the CC list. So I imagine that some of the managers who are getting copied on these emails may have been ignoring them (either using this feature or literally ignoring them).

  9. B*

    My issue with doing this is that they did not attempt to talk to the colleague about the issue first. By going from a department email to a massive group email you are missing the middle step, talking to someone directly. Then if that does not work I would step it up to the group boss email but otherwise…

    1. Nina*

      I thought the same thing. There could have been a reason why the dept neglected to return the coworker’s email. But even if there wasn’t a reason (or a good one), going over the dept’s heads without making any attempt to contact them first feels sneaky and underhanded.

  10. Tasha*

    Similar but related problem: I work with (not for) a VP who does not respond to my emails. When I need information from him, I have to ask my VP boss to email him. The nonresponder is always pleasant to me in the hallways, but he’s a jerk.

  11. Anonsie*

    Now I’m wondering if maybe I’m totally off-base, because I can’t really imagine being able to get a nonresponsive department to stop doing that by talking to them about it. If you were in a very small organization, maybe, but not somewhere the size of a university. Where I work is a lot smaller than that and there wouldn’t even be a way to do this, let alone have it actually work. Even if one of our higher ups were to try (which has happened before) the response is typically “we have a lot of things to do and we’ll get to you when we get to you.”

  12. MJH*

    Yep. I hate when my boss is CC:ed on emails to me when no one has ever contacted me before about an issue. But when I have made multiple attempts to reach someone, then hell yes I am going to copy your supervisor. Get me the things I need, or respond that you will do so in a week or a month or whenever. That’s it. Not that difficult.

    People who ignore email make me furious.

  13. Michele*

    I also can’t stand when people Cc my boss without even a phone call first. I had an e-mail change over at my job and lost a lot of e-mails. So any back up I had for issues is virtually all gone and to top it off I wasn’t getting all of my e-mails for 2 weeks. I understand it can be frustrating but sometimes there might be things out of the recipients control and a kick polite, phone call will usually clear it up.

    1. Julie*

      I’ve had this same situation. Once in a blue moon someone will email me and copy my manager because I didn’t get back to them right away about something, and every time it has been that I didn’t see the email because there’s so much going on. It’s a large company, so not everyone knows me or my reputation. If I can’t get to something right away, I usually email back to say so, but sometimes I just missed the original email. Most of the time when that happens, the person will email me again with a reminder or asking if I got the first email. When people escalate to CCing my manager on the second email, I think angry thoughts about them, but I don’t act on those thoughts. I apologize, explain what happened, and either answer their question or tell them when I’ll be able to. I don’t address that they CCd my manager, and I hope that takes some of their frustration away.

  14. Meg Murry*

    The part that stood out to me was that the original contact were sent to a departmental email, not an individual. (Like some.department @ University .edu, not Joe.User@ and Bob.User@). The problem with departmental email addresses is that they are often the recipient of so much mail that isn’t directly relevant that people might ignore them or have them filtered into a separate inbox.
    If you need the individuals to attend a training, send the message to the individuals. Or talk to the individuals about whether emails sent to individuals will get a better response than one sent to the group. In my experience, group messages tend to be ignored.

    1. Chinook*

      I think the issue isn’t that the unresponsive department needs the training but that they have to do somethign in order to enable new employees to take part in training Ex: new chocolate teapot factory workers must have logins in order to change teh design for the machines. If department in charge of logins doesn’t create them for the new employees, the trainer’s options are either: a) let them login under someone else (which hs people here yelling NO! just from the though of it or b) walk them through the process without letting them do it themsleves (which is a horrible way to train anyone).

      In this case, it makes sense for machine login guardians to have a group email account that everyone in their department is monitoring and the tasks are then delegated. Now, their maybe a huge chocolate meltdown that takes priority over creating logins, but the login issue moves from low priority to high priority when you end up paying new employees to stand around, sniffing chocolate with nothing to do.

    2. Anonsie*

      In my experience, if you send something to an individual for a department like this they’ll tell you to only ever contact the departmental inbox and will forward your email over there without reading it. The letter writer may be doing as they ask.

  15. Lurker*

    I have a co-worker who is a habitual offender of turning in monthly reports late every.single.month, despite the fact I send out reminders one week prior, and follow up weekly (by email, phone, or in person) after he inevitably doesn’t turn in the paperwork. After months of him being 3-4 weeks late every month I asked our mutual supervisor for suggestions. I was directed to copy the supervisor on my next reminder to the co-worker. Once I did that, I still didn’t get the paperwork I needed but I did get a nasty email reply from the co-worker telling me copying our boss on emails wasn’t handling things very collegially. Classy.

    1. Tina*

      For a brief time at one job, I got stuck with tracking down weekly time sheets. A few people were notoriously late and had to be asked repeatedly. Then the thankless task got assigned to a young woman in the office who had some kind of developmental/social delays (it was some kind of work program), and she ran them down like she was some kind of bounty hunter. She wasn’t worried about being polite or political, she just stormed into their offices, said give me your time sheet now, and stared at them until they finished it right then and there and gave her the time sheet. Having spent months trying to get these people on task, it was an awesome sight to see her get it done!

      1. Angora*

        I am of the school regarding time sheets / wage entry etc.. I’ll send out a reminder a few days before hand …. than another one the day before. If you do not get it to me by than; and miss the deadline to get paid …. than your pay check will be lumped in with the next one (if you turn it on time). I’m not chasing you down, etc.

        Doesn’t work with salary employees … but does with the wage & student workers. I ask them to get it to me an hour before it’s due so we can get it across campus …. otherwise they are taking it across campus themselves. Their pay; their responsibility.

    2. Del*

      “I did this at [Supervisor]’s request. If you’re uncomfortable with it, please discuss that with them.” AKA If you don’t want to get called out on stuff, don’t do things that merit calling out. Lordy, that coworker sounds like a pain in the butt.

      1. Angora*

        a bright pink sticky note on their door asking them to submit something works wonders sometimes …. right in their face … but I hate having to chase people down

      2. Adam V*

        I’d CC the supervisor on *this* email too, so she can weigh in and say “yes, I asked Lurker to do this because apparently you’re not giving her your reports on time.”

      3. Lurker*

        You have no idea how much of a pain. This is just one example. He is constantly missing deadlines for every department. Even saying “[Co-worker], I still need x,y, and z from you” in front of everyone in meetings related to x, y, and z doesn’t produce results. The supervisor is well aware, and has spoken to co-worker several times but nothing changes.

        1. Angora*

          Sounds like someone needs to be formally written up vs. spoken to.

          People that do not care about deadlines, etc … need something that locks up everything on their computer but what they need access to, to complete their tasks.

          that’s a fantasy … or banner that crawls or bounces across their monitor with blaring horns when they miss deadlines. LOL. We all have missed a deadline or two; but there are individuals that feel that they do not apply to them. Everyone may be forced to ask for something 1 – 2 days earlier than needed to see if it approves; but it’s doubtful if it’s an individuals and/or department’s mode of operation. Sometimes they are understaffed; and until the budget loosens up to hire either permanent staffing and/or temporary help that’s the way it’s going be. But they need to tell you.

  16. Bend & Snap*

    It’s a last resort, but it’s a last resort I have to use more often than I’d like. There are pretty much no consequences for not doing/responding to things in my company, so if you REALLY need something, it’s the kick in the pants to get it moving.

    Then next time you do the whole thing over again.

    Good times.

  17. MaryMary*

    Does anyone else ever find that using “we” in phrases like “what can we do differently” isn’t always helpful? I use “we” a lot in professional conversation, particularly as a manager, but I’ve started phasing it out.

    I’ve gotten called out on it a couple times. By called out, I mean that I’d say something like, “I know you have a lot on your plate, but we need to have this piece of the project complete by next Monday” and get “by ‘we’ you mean me, right?” as a response. I also get a lot of people who assume “we” = “not me.” So If I said, “what could we do differently,” they’d answer with suggestions on how everyone except them could change their process. I’ve started using more direct language. Are my coworkers just sensitive to plural pronouns?

    1. fposte*

      I think some people are bound to find loopholes :-). In the email case, I would literally mean “we”–if I should email somebody else, I want to know that. This isn’t a situation where I can tell them to do something faster anyway.

      I don’t tend to use it instead of “you,” though. If I’m supervising, it’s “We need this by Monday–Bob, can you take care of that and get it to me by 10 am Monday?” “Jane, when I send stuff to the departmental inbox, I have a hard time getting a timely answer–would I be able to email you directly in future? Or could you tell me who else in Teapottery I could email directly?”

    2. DKA*

      I was thinking the same thing-I haven’t had good success using the “what can we do differently” in my office.

    3. Mallory*

      I think it depends upon how the speaker deploys the “we”. I’ve had people use “we” without my even noticing, and I’ve had others wield it in an obnoxious, passive-aggressive way to which I’ve responded (with way less snark than I actually felt), “Who’s we?

      1. fposte*

        I often just outright say “And by ‘we’ I mean you, Jane” when we’re talking about new tasks that need to be done.

    4. Del*

      Nah, I don’t think your coworkers are unusually sensitive. I’ve definitely had some people either interpret it as “that means not me” or feel that it was passive-aggressive slippery language.

    5. Traveller*

      Why not take the pronoun out of the question completely?

      “What needs to change so that the report can be submitted on time?”

      or even better as if you can be part of the solution to have them make their deliverable

      “What do you need me to do, in order to ensure that you can get your report done on time?”

      (this works magic sometimes….as long as the answer isn’t “Do it for me”)

    6. Annie O*

      I think it looks especially bad when a manager using a lot of we-speak down the ladder, but a lot of I-speak up the ladder.

      “Subordinate, we need to get that teapot project finished by Friday.”

      “Big boss, I finished that teapot project on Friday.”

    7. Fish Microwaver*

      Alison has pointed out that sometimes “What can we do to …” is shorthand for “what do you need to do”. It is supposed to be a way of eradicating blatant blame and encouraging co-operation.

  18. alwaysbenicetotechsupport*

    for small companies (say, less than 50 people) you could probably just walk up to their desk and ask about the status of something. “hey, i shot an email across the other day about x. do you have any update?” is typically how i follow-up a non-response from someone within our remote office of 15 people. but, for larger companies (or sprawled out campuses) that simply doesn’t make sense. it’s just easier to add their manager (or management team) on copy, to help expedite things.

    i do product/design support for our team’s products, and i work with coworkers and customers alike. if i have a particularly difficult exchange with a coworker (or a customer who’s manager i know well), where they become childish/difficult/inflammatory, i’ve been known to copy their manager at the end of the thread to not only ‘close’ the loop, but to also bring attention to the employee’s childish behavior. emails do not need multiple punctuation points (!!!! or ????!!!???) or ALL CAPSLOCK.

  19. Jake*

    “(By the way, “what can we do differently?” is polite code for “you need to do something differently.” It works in all kinds of situations. Try it!)”

    Truer words have never been spoken. It is my go to phrase in meetings with clients, vendors and contractors where I need to politely say you are doing it wrong.

    Adding “because this obviously isn’t working” is helpful when addressing medium and long term issues that have been addressed before.

  20. Eric*

    (By the way, “what can we do differently?” is polite code for “you need to do something differently.” It works in all kinds of situations. Try it!)

    Hahaha. Or they are going to take you at your word and tell you do something differently.

    You always seem to favor direct. How about not talking in code? I get enough of that from my wife.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sometimes work relationships mean that you don’t have standing to say, “I need you to do X differently” or that because you’re not their manager, starting off there will harm the relationship/dynamic between you.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I’m a pretty direct person, but I wouldn’t be comfortable saying, “You need to change X” to my boss, or to someone in another department. My immediate peers and I have a good working relationship and they wouldn’t take a direct “Hey, can you do X?” or “I’m waiting on Y, can you take care of it?” wrongly, but it would not be politic with a lot of groups (whose immediate response–stated or unstated–would quite possibly be, “You’re not my manager, you don’t get to tell me what to do when.”)

    2. Candy Floss*

      +1. It shivers me timbers to see passive-aggressivness being recommended. I work in a company that communicates primarily in a P-A manner (which I never had, and which I hate) and I’ve had to adopt it to some degree in order to survive. I find it creeping into the way I talk when I’m not at work and horrify myself!

    3. Annie O*

      But sometimes there IS something the asker can be doing differently.

      In the LW’s case, it may be that the dept@univ.edu email account is only read once a week and cc’ing the admin will get a faster result.

      1. SausageDog*

        And that’s fine, IF that is what is really meant when you use it. But AAM said it was code for something else, and it’s the use of coded messages rather than directness that’s the issue.

  21. Jeanne*

    I used to have to copy managers on so much because I had coworkers who were liars. They would accuse me of saying horrible things in emails. When I had saved sent email, they claimed I had changed what it said. Yes, the managers should have dealt with this but didn’t so I was pushed into a corner.

    For the OP’s situation, I probably would have done what she did. There is clearly an ongoing problem that no one is interested in addressing. You do what you have to to get by.

    1. Angora*

      There is one thing that might work … I did it years ago with a department that terrible to work with; but hating doing as an admin asst because our pay sucks.

      At Christmas time send a large bag of M & M’s to the department you’re having problems with and say thank you for all your help this year … I did it one year to a lot of offices …. but I was working a 2nd job than. The department that was such a pain greatly improved. I think the M & M’s associated a kindness with a name & office.

      Sometimes it helps to stop by and ask for the item in person if it’s something that can be done quickly. Harder to ignore a person vs e-mail. Easier to ignore and be ugly on e-mail.

  22. MF*

    I have a colleague who cc’s my boss on every. single. email. It’s not for lack of responsiveness because I respond right away (they think I do a fine job; I was just promoted and given a large increase in salary). Last year she decided on her own that I report to her, and after she was told I report to someone else and we are both department heads, she started cc’ing my boss on everything. I haven’t addressed it, however, because I fear it will just make me look petulant, so I’m trying to ignore the behavior. But it irks, and it implies that I won’t do my work unless my boss is involved.

    1. Dmented Kitty*

      THIS. I hate people who just CC your boss on EVERYTHING right away. It implies that I am not responsive all the time. I only CC the managers if I think they should be aware that are having this conversation.

      Another special group of people would be those who CC higher-ups just so their requests will be “top priority”, even when they’re not, then they frame the request to sound like you have not been cooperating with them. That’s just sneaky. Worse is when the higher-ups can’t see through the BS and pick his/her side. >:(

    2. Vancouver Reader*

      Isn’t that like crying wolf though? Won’t your boss just start ignoring emails from your colleague after a while because a) your boss has enough of her own work to do and b) does she really want to shuffle through all those emails to see which ones are relevant and which ones aren’t?

  23. Anon*

    +1 This is my go-to solution for difficult people. I don’t even wait for a holiday. I just send the thank-you treat whenever they do get whatever it is done, with an overly thankful note about how much I appreciate all their help given their busy schedule. Next time I need something, I magically get it quickly. To my surprise, no one appears to see through my charade (or at least they like the cookies/starbucks card/whatever too much to take the risk of not helping me quickly next time). It does not have to be expensive – one cookie from the cafeteria or bringing them one cup of coffee on my next run is all it takes.

    1. KimmieSue*

      Absolutely! Kill ’em with kindness the first time they respond quickly! Add a little sappy guilt as well. “I know you are incredibly busy but we really needed your report to close out the entire departments reports headed to Finance. Thank you so much. You just saved my weekend plans! I’ve had to work the last weekend each of the past four months (over the same report project)!”

  24. Francie*

    I’ve been on the cc’d supervisor side of this kind of thing. Usually, if it’s the first request (not a follow-up) and I’m not worried about the employee being a slacker, I ignore those emails, especially if I already know that the sender is someone who cc’s me on every request. It’s really only if I’ve been made aware of responsiveness issues with the given employee or if I’m being cc’d on a second request because some time has passed that I would follow up with the employee the request is being made of.

    Just be judicious about it. Make the initial request, get ignored, THEN get me involved. If you have to do this more than a couple times, I’ll figure out on my own that this guy’s a problem. At that point, I’ll probably ask you to start cc’ing me. If you’re cc’ing me from the get-go, I have no way of telling whether it’s my employee with the problem or it’s you with the problem.

  25. Scott M*

    I try to limit copying my boss on things, because I know he is busy. And I don’t assume that just because I copy him, that he will read the email.

    If I need him to do something (like nudge another manager to get their people to respond) I send him a direct email to ask for his help, or just stop by his office.

  26. Anon for this*

    There are, unfortunately, cases where this is necessary, though Alison’s advice is excellent.

    I’ve been told by my boss repeatedly to do this when sending out e-mails about issues in the area I monitor because we’re dragging a department kicking and screaming into compliance with something.

    I always feel horrible and passive aggressive about this, even though I’ve been told to do it and I’ve seen from experience that it’s the only way to handle it.

  27. Ruffingit*

    If I were a higher-up receiving these kinds of emails on a regular basis, I’d go to the department myself and see what the heck was going on that they couldn’t seem to respond to requests. I have to wonder what the higher-ups are thinking about this.

  28. Cassie*

    Copying 4 people was probably a bit much, but I don’t see a problem with copying a supervisor – probably the facility dept’s supervisor would be my first choice. I assume the OP and colleague have tried at least a few times (“repeatedly”). Walking over to the dept to see “what’s up?” is not really an option in a large university. There’s a reason (at my university, at least) that these depts are notorious for being non-responsive or slow. Showing up in person won’t change a thing.

    If there’s still no response after copying their supervisor, then I would escalate it on our side (to an assistant dean or something, who can reach out to their counterpart on the other side). It may seem like overkill, but sometimes there’s nothing else you can do. I’ve been waiting for some closing paperwork from a company for probably 2 years – I’ve sent probably 10 emails (first to the person I’ve worked with who hasn’t responded at all – maybe he’s gone; then to a media relations email address to find the appropriate person; then to a person in their legal side who seemed responsive but then left the company; and the someone else legal who said the paperwork was simple and would be taken care of right away. I still haven’t received the required paperwork, my emails to the last person are now going unanswered). I’m half-thinking I should go look up the CEO’s email address and sending my request to him – even if it’s his assistant who’s reading the email, maybe he/she can find someone to help me.

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