my team overuses reply-all

A reader writes:

My company has a friendly, welcoming culture, which is great — I love working there — but whenever there is a promotion or a new starter joins the team, I feel it gets taken just a little bit too far. Essentially, a manager will send an email to the entire department (about 175 people) to congratulate their team member on a new role, or welcome the new person to the company. Then people start hitting Reply All to join in. Yesterday afternoon, I received an email about a coworker’s promotion and by the time I logged on this morning it had attracted 25 responses from my colleagues along the lines of “Yay, Sansa! Nice work!”

Don’t get me wrong; I am delighted for Sansa and her new role, but I don’t need to know that everyone else agrees! Why not just email Sansa directly instead of including everyone else? It feels performative to me and what makes it more annoying is that the head of department joins in!

I suspect I may be just a teensy bit grumpy about this, but is there a way I can tactfully and respectfully raise this with the group? I would never hit Reply All to moan about it when it happens in the moment — it’s nice to get congrats from your teammates and I wouldn’t want to detract from that (and also the irony of Replying All to grumble about Reply All’s is not lost on me). However, raising it at another time seems like I’d be making a bigger issue out of something I just find a bit irritating. Should I just suck it up and carry on using the delete button?

Yeah, I’d just suck it up.

I agree with you that it’s annoying and often feels performative. (By all means, congratulate Sansa, but why do you need the 174 other people in your department as witnesses?) But it also sounds like it’s the culture of your organization, and there are probably as many people who think it’s warm and supportive (or just don’t care) as who find it annoying.

If you were getting 200 reply-all’s instead of 25, I’d be more inclined to think it worth raising, framing it as “I’m starting to miss emails because there are so many congrats messages flooding in.” But if it’s ~25 kind but superfluous emails, I’d just delete and move on rather than risk being seen as the curmudgeon who can’t appreciate a communal electronic high-five.

Doesn’t mean it’s not annoying though.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. A Simple Narwhal*

    If you use Outlook for mail, sorting your inbox into conversations is helpful, it will loop all of the responses into collapsible strings, makes things look less cluttered.

    1. Been There*

      This is what I do – everywhere I’ve ever worked, this is a problem. I take it as one of those slightly irritating things that comes with the territory when everyone is so kind they want to give out Kudos all the time.

      Definitely second sorting by conversation, it makes it much easier to find things in your email as well. :)

    2. Turanga Leela*

      If you right-click on a message in Outlook, there’s an “ignore” option that will delete the whole conversation, including any future replies.

      My office is big on replying all with congratulations, so I make liberal use of this. (I’m happy for people! I’ll send an individual reply to congratulate the person, if it’s someone I know! But then I don’t need to see the thread anymore.)

      1. JustNoReplyAll*

        LW here – thanks! I hadn’t spotted this on Outlook, but it sounds like the kind of thing I should know about!

      2. BRR*

        I also used ignore for those awful “welcome sansa!” I’m sad now that we use Gmail. I also created rules for certain people who were the worst offenders. Jane has no legitimate need to ever email all staff so let’s send those straight to the trash.

      3. AMT*

        You can filter emails with a specific word in the body or subject line, so you could send all emails with “congratulations/congrats” directly to your Spam folder!

      4. Glitsy Gus*

        I do something similar, which is move the main message to a folder labeled “reply nonsense” with the “Always move” option to send all the replies there too. I can then go delete everything at the end of the day. I learned the hard way that occasionally someone will Reply All with something relevant, so I like to be able to do a very quick skim before I delete all, and this allows me to do that. If your team doesn’t have that nasty little habit, Ignore is a great option to use.

      5. Fabulous*

        Ooooh I didn’t know about this feature. I’ll have to use it next time our office does the ‘Reply All’ tango!

      6. GalFriday*

        Yes! I’m pretty sure this whole situation is why they developed the the Ignore Conversation feature were these crazy reply all emails.

    3. AMT*

      I solved with problem by using Outlook inbox rules that sort emails addressed specifically to me into an Important Emails folder and emails addressed to a list to a Mass Emails folder. It might be harder for reply-all emails that are addressed to a bunch of individual email addresses rather than a list, but the LW could direct those to a third folder (e.g. “Multiple-Recipient Emails”) that contains emails where the LW is not the only recipient.

      1. Reply all is evil*

        My company has this problem with birthday and anniversary emails. The ignore feature and rules are a life saver. I am happy to see the actual email from the VP and then reply if it’s someone I know personally but I use the rules to filter out all the replies so I can mass delete. Sadly email etiquette is just not something people grasp with reply Vs reply all.

    4. NerdyKris*

      Anytime I start getting a flood of emails with the same subject line or from the same source I just right click and make a rule to sort them into their own folder for a while. Every once in a while I clean up the folders.

    5. Lavender Menace*

      I was just about to say this. Also, if you use Outlook, you can use the Ignore feature to delete all the responses and no longer get notified for the rest of the conversation. I work in a very similar company and I usually add my congratulations then immediately hit Ignore.

  2. Bostonian*

    OP, I can relate! This was something that I had to get used to with my current team when I joined. We do the same thing, but we have WAY less people in our department, so at most about 5-10 reply-all congrats or welcomes will come through. (I have to admit, I would find 25 emails along that line pretty annoying!) I still prefer to email the person directly to congratulate them, and I know other people so that, too, from when I was on the receiving end. So you’re not the only one who prefers a more personal touch than the performative approach.

    Especially now that we’re completely remote, I just remind myself that some people really like the public celebration aspect of it.

  3. andytuba*

    Gmail filters are great for managing these:
    1. add a filter to add a label for messages that look like promotion/welcome messages.
    2. add a filter to “skip inbox (archive)” for messages with that label.

    Gmail also offers a “mute” button for conversations.

  4. trudrlka*

    Both Outlook & Gmail allow you to unsubscribe/mute/opt out of an e-mail thread. My company does something similar. Promotions are announced semi-yearly & the reply all congratulations e-mails go on for a week — it’s too much.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I came here to say the same thing.
      Though you may need to use with caution. Occasionally, someone replies/forwards one of these threads to you with actual action items that expect a response.

    2. Dan*

      I work for an org with a few thousand people in it. Usually promotion announcements were limited to the division level which was reasonable. Except last year, there was this big “busting down the silos” reorg, and promotions were announced to the whole company. That dragged on for like three months. My division is about a tenth of the overall org, and I don’t even know the whole division. The company-wide promotion announcements were nuts.

      But I couldn’t help myself. Last year when some of my junior colleagues were promoted, I sent them an email directly and said, “Congrats on the well-earned promotion. The worst part about getting promoted is dealing with the 50 or so emails congratulating you, so please allow me the opportunity to pile on.”

  5. Zoomed out*

    Ours does that too, because all staff is a “group” so if you wanted to email that person directly you’d have to take the additional step of changing the email to that person’s email (which is what I do)

  6. Helpful?*

    Can’t she raise it with the manager? If the manager puts everyone on the BCC line, reply all isn’t possible. Or if the manager is using a group email like, have IT limit access to who can use that email.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      It’s not just one manager, it’s multiple managers across the department all sending similar emails without BCCing. If I went down that path I think I’d have to raise it with everyone at once, otherwise risk being the team grump who spends her time complaining about email etiquette every time someone gets some good news! FWIW I have complained to my manager about it, and she agrees but is able to deal with it more serenely than me!

    2. Kira*

      My director and I were commiserating about the reply-all a couple years back. She said she’d been trying to get the other directors to BCC the email — the push-back she’d run into was that half the leadership team thought the reply-all chains were an important display of our company culture and values and resisted changing it.

    3. Ama*

      We use bcc a lot for that reason but I know one of the reasons we don’t use it for certain kinds of messages is because then everyone gets the message forwarded to them fourteen different times by people who think there was a mistake and it only got sent to them.

      1. Luna*

        Best practice at my work is putting everyone in BCC, then listing the BCC recipients at the bottom of the email. Then people know who the email was sent to without being able to reply all.

        1. Kimmybear*

          We do similar in the subject line (BCC: ListservA and ListservB). It allows people to use rules on the subject and filter everything that says that.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeesssss. Locking down the has cut down on this substantially – unfortunately, there are higher-ups with access who are reply-allers and have distro access, but it has cut down substantially.

      (Ironically, the lockdown was not precipitated by reply-all abusers but an employee who saw the termination writing on the wall sending a scathing, naming-names email – and on a holiday, so it was more broadly seen than if it had been sent during a business day as the on-call IT person frantically dialed in. Goodbye open access to All_Employees list.)

  7. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    LW this is exactly what the ignore function in Outlook is for. You can reply yourself, send the congratulations and then set the rest of the thread to ignore and Outlook will automagically delete them for you so you don’t ever have to be bothered again.
    My company does this same thing and the ignore feature has saved my sanity.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Sometimes things like this are best dealt with by laughing at them because they’re just a “Oh my, we all different in our own special ways…” kind of moment. I laugh because even letting something make me grumpy for a few minutes to discharge the annoyance is my own special way of functioning and trying to keep negativity at a minimum.

    Most of these are quirks that people have, just like “Jane likes to do everything in blue pen” and “Jim wears his crusty old Cowboy hat to work every game day.” Both can annoy the heck out of the right person but really, unless it’s causing actual issues, it’s nothing to bring up to anyone. It’s a “we share this world, we don’t make all the rules” kind of thing!

    Also I don’t like a world where there’s SOP for every single detail but that’s also, a me thing. I know others would be delighted to have a standard of practice for what color of pen to use and how to construct internal casual emails, lol.

  9. CTT*

    If you’re using Outlook, creating Rules is your best friend. If I ever get stuck in a reply-all loop and it is unlikely anyone is going to respond to that thread with actual work information, I create a rule to move all messages with that subject line directly to trash. The one caveat is that the subject line can’t be generic, like “Congratulations,” because then any future emails will also get caught up in that, but that’s pretty rare.

  10. Mbarr*

    Does your specific team do the same? If yes, you could try to start a cultural movement on your own team. Just run it by your manager first. E.g. “Hey Boss, is there a reason why we all reply all [example of email]?” If they say no, you could ask to bring it up at the next team meeting.

    I know I’ve been on teams that got into the habit of replying all to stuff just cause everyone else was doing it… People were stoked when I led the revolution and suggested, “Let’s stop spamming each other!”

    Of course, judgment calls are needed. I wouldn’t try this with the Congrats emails.

    Otherwise, as others have said, if you use Outlook, organize the emails into conversations. It’s easy to skim and delete them that way.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      My manager does do it (and knows my feelings on the subject), but she does it on a smaller scale – e.g. to our immediate team of 10 and a few select others. This does feel a lot more manageable and personal to me since we’re a close team and there’s more joking around rather a generic ‘well done’, plus it’s over a lot quicker!

      1. bleh*

        You might run into some flack. Some people do this because they *want* others to see it. They want to be the nicest or most friendly or whatever. It’s nice person theatre – in the midwest anyway. We had a real pro who would congratulate everyone on everything, but if they didn’t like you they’d find a way to subtly undercut the congrats.. all while being oh-so-nice. Think “congrats on the grant and thanks to so-and-so who was on the selection team” (suggesting that you only got the grant because of so-and-so). I’m glad I don’t work there anymore.

  11. Nesprin*

    Dear everyone, BCC has been a function of email since forever- please use it.

    Nesprin, and everyone else.

  12. Pink Glitter*

    I want to send this to everyone in my company.

    We had a huge Reply All snafu yesterday with an email being sent in error to a wrong distribution list and today we got an email going over “Email Etiquette” that talked about making sure you really need to select “Reply All” when responding to an email.

    This type frustrates me more than the error ones though. Those ones are funny. These do feel performative.

  13. Now In the Job*

    Our CEO recently made a reply-all gaffe when we were cleared for purchasing stock and he sent a joke back to the sender….and all the employees. Whoops.

    I recently joined a team that does this. It’s really interesting for me because my first company had *really strict rules* around reply-alls and using CC and BCC etc etc. No surprise there were other weird things too. We weren’t allowed to use round bullet points in the first or second point of a list, among other bizarre workplace micromanagement. Whereas this organization is very liberal with reply-alls in our department. Fortunately we’re pretty small, less than 20 of us, so that helps. But I’ve shifted to replying only to the relevant person. Hoping it catches on, haha.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      Did you ever find out why you weren’t allowed to use round bullet points? That sounds so unnecessary!

      1. Now In the Job*

        One of the co-founders was fussy to the *extreme*. He just hated the aesthetics of round bullet points. And our logo involved a polygon figure, which he integrated into the “brand image” and was obsessively protective over branding. If he hated something’s aesthetics, he would go on a tirade and forbid it within the company. There were loads of other weird things too, like you weren’t allowed to use any other font except X unless it was required by a customer contract. We had designated colors we were and were not allowed to use. Someone maintained a specific set of locked letterhead documents because he wanted it to be a *precise* measurement from the top edge of the page to where the logo was. It was bizarre. In some ways there were nice things about the structure, since you never had to have questions about formatting or what have you, but the way he would lose it if he ever found out something went out with an adjustment he didn’t approve was absurd.

        1. Now In the Job*

          Now I’m remembering some of the other stuff he did. “Invite” as a noun (e.g., “send me an invite”) was verboten. “Robust” was forbidden unless you were specifically talking about pasta sauce. There are so many more, these are just some of the more memorable ones!

          1. Carlie*

            Gotta say I’m with him on invite as a noun. If he also forbade gift as a verb, I might take that in tradeoff for not using round bullet points.

          2. Renata Ricotta*

            My office isn’t QUITE that bad, but there are a couple of influential leaders who have similarly micro-managey rules for random stuff, but luckily they seem to have picked their battles and prioritized conformity on only a handful of things. I often think of how exhausting it must be to live as fussy as those people are.

        2. JustNoReplyAll*

          I get having standard letterheads and colors as part of your brand guidelines and materials, but mandating bullet points internally is just daft! Was he from a design background?

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      wait, like — you couldn’t use round bullets in the first or second points, but three and later they were fair game? Because round bullets for 1-2 is tackier than changing bullets halfway through the list somehow?

      1. Now In the Job*

        I think I was unclear, more like in a list with multiple levels? Level 1 was square filled-in. Level 2 was square empty. Level 3 was round filled in. Level 4 was a dash. Nothing was allowed further in than level 4. You were not allowed to have a single subpoint in any given level, if you felt like something needed a subpoint, it either had to be 2 subpoints or put on the main point. It was super absurd XD

          1. Now In the Job*

            Right? I get a style guide that is applied to documents that are external facing or go to clients, but he was an utter tyrant about everyone following these rules even in internal emails.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I’d be wondering when he had time to do– you know– CEO type things? He seems awful busy with Stuff That Doesn’t Matter. Not really a good long term plan.

        1. NGL*

          Oooh, the 2 subpoints or just should be in the main point was something I learned back in high school english. I actually try to stick to that now, but my current job is big on breaking out info onto new lines to be EXTRA clear, so sometimes a single subpoint is required.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          so. um. hm.

          Bullet lists are one of my OCD obsessions (diagnosed, not figure of speech). I can’t send a list that only has one subpoint without serious discomfort. I’m stretching right now to ease the tension of talking about it. If I see a presentation with it, I stretch then too.

          I am really glad that my obsession doesn’t extend to the buttons, and that it eases up a lot with things that are not under my control (ie, other people’s presentations). I feel a lot of sympathy for your ex-boss, and for the people around who had to deal with his discomfort for him.

          (My solution for a singleton is either wrap it back in to the line above, find another relevant thought, or even remove them from the list, in a footnote or sentence below the list, if it makes sense to call that much attention to them. After 20 years of presentations, I have a lot of tricks to cope with it…)

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    You know what feels even better than getting a “congrats, wtg!” email in a chain within half an hour of the announcement? Getting a heartfelt congrats sometime in the next week, in person (or via phone or video chat or whatever), at a time and occasion that’s not part of the groupthink rah-rah.

    I can reply-all “congrats, wtg” without thinking about it. But when I give a personal, non-rote notice at some other time it conveys the message that I really mean it.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      Yes, that’s so much more thoughtful. I suppose in the current environment where many are working remotely people just see the Reply All as easier.

  15. Consulting Consultant*

    Our company has a policy that mass emails should BCC the distribution list specifically to avoid this situation. People still do it about 30% of the time since we implemented the policy a few years ago, but at least now managers can point to a specific policy for the offenders, which is slowly cutting down on our Reply All Hell.

  16. Never an employee always a contractor*

    25 fells like a lot, I use to work at an organization that had over 1,500 staff who would receive certain notices about promotions or new hires and the worst it ever got was like 5 reply all’s.

    My favorites were the emails announcing someone would be joining the staff in x position on Y date (sometime in the future) and people would reply all to congratulate them. That person doesn’t even have an email yet!

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      Oh that’s great! My department hasn’t gone that far just yet (they tend to announce new starters on their first day), but I could totally see it happening!

    2. Kira*

      I think the smaller size of the team is a big factor. We had 30-ish people when I started and so the performance of replying in order to be seen replying came into play (If I don’t reply to congratulate Tom but the two other members of our team do, will somebody notice and think I’m cold and impersonal??)

      I assume a larger company has no such expectations and feels more anonymous, but I’ve never worked anywhere very large so I’m just speculating.

    3. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Heh. I work for a MegaCorp and we’ve had reply all storms when someone would mistakenly send an email to a 100k person listserv, leading to a flurry of “please remove me” reply alls. We easily hit 200 responses in one incident. IT eventually added a secondary “hey are you sure this is the right listsev because you’re sending to x number of recipients?” check a few years ago.

  17. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Setup a rule that sends everything to your deleted folder – it can be run on your inbox emails. There’s is nothing that can be done for clueless individuals who don’t get that Reply All is rarely necessary.

  18. knitcrazybooknut*

    I feel your pain. Years ago, I joined a department that used email for EVERY kind of celebration—achievements, birthdays, work anniversaries. “Jane got her llama grooming certificate! Great job!!” and you were expected to chime in. 24 people in the department. At least ten-fifteen messages with reply-all EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And there was low-frequency side-eye if you didn’t participate. I felt like a fraud, but I tried to take the chance to communicate something I valued about the person, making it more meaningful for me (and also communicating to The Powers That Be at the same time).

    As someone whose main drive is to Get Stuff Done, this felt like a ridiculous waste of time for me. But not everyone views it that way, and it can be helpful to reframe it as something that feels more valuable to you. You don’t have to participate if your workplace isn’t as passive-aggressive as mine was. But I did occasionally reply without copying everyone, and give them congratulations that were more specific to our relationship.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      That sounds exhausting! Thankfully my department isn’t that passive/aggressive – or at least it’s hard to tell when everyone’s remote these days – so I don’t feel the need to join in the Reply Alls. As you say, it’s far more meaningful to reply on a personal level.

    2. reply all*

      Similar situation here. Sure, generally speaking, the “Reply All” is a performative action, but in our office the “performative” piece is amplified, so it becomes more about that than the actual good wishes.

  19. Turquoisecow*

    Almost every holiday, several people in my company send an email to a large group of people, including the entire office staff of about 70 people, as well as probably about 20 or so other vendors and clients and business owners they interact with. At least ten or so of those people – most of whom I do not know – reply all to say “oh thanks so much best wishes to you and your family have a great holiday” type things. The first Christmas I worked there I probably got two dozen similar emails, and then random office staff replying all as well to pass on holiday wishes. I actually briefly wondered if I was committing a faux pas by not replying all.

    Thankfully it’s not a huge company, so it’s not like it’s filling up my whole inbox, but it’s apparently a cultural thing here, so I just roll with it and ignore those emails until the holiday has passed by.

  20. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    In our office, there is one specific email that goes out, where the requirement is that once you’ve dealt with it, you’re supposed to reply-all. This results in you getting a lot of replies you don’t need, so I have a whole outlook folder just for that one report.

    The other thing it has resulted in, is that many people on the team now have a tendency to reply-all to *everything*, even stuff that isn’t requiring any reply at all, or just “reply to Supervisor when you’ve done Thing”. And having established the habit, it’s now a creeping custom. And it is driving me BONKERS.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      Oh man, I feel for you! I have been learning valuable things on this thread about the Ignore function on Outlook – sounds like we both need to use it!

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        No. everyone does NOT need to know. I definitely don’t care whether you’ve done the thing, I only care whether I have done the thing and let Boss know. Supposedly this is to ensure that all the Leadership get the message that you’ve done the thing, instead of your message just going to one person and maybe getting missed. I would imagine that there’s a historical context for this, where spamming your peers unnecessarily was considered a decent trade-off for potentially not communicating with Boss. (Teaching people how to use email isn’t an option I guess.)

        However, there are other group emails and reports where you have to do a thing, but you’re not required to tell anyone you did it. But now people are gleefully replying-all to those too, FOR NO REASON. (There’s also a That One Person who just doesn’t seem to know how to not reply-all and it results in incredibly entertaining threads where they’re showing everyone that they haven’t been paying attention and are actually kind of a nitwit who honestly should be working elsewhere.)

  21. Dan*

    My technical projects are switching over to Slack, and I find that I use email *way* less. One of the suuuuuuuper nice things about slack are the emoticons. So you can have an “X just got promoted” announcement that goes to the whole channel, and then whoever wants to congratulate X can just click the thumbs up or add the emoticon of choice. I do not like emoticons in email, but I find them appropriate in slack.

    1. JustNoReplyAll*

      We’ve moved over to Teams to try and cut down on email, and even created a channel specifically for kudos/congrats etc, but no-one uses it and the emails persist… *sigh*

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Changes like that have to come from mgmt on down. Maybe your manager could switch to using that Slack channel (and only that channel, no email backup) for her announcements? You could propose it to her as a ‘we’re trying to use Teams more, here’s a way to lead on that. If you do it, and maybe talk a couple of other managers into doing it, I bet even more would follow your lead.’

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I came here to say that this kind of thing is so much better suited to a Slack #announcements channel.

      Maybe I’m being super millennial, but I feel like email is a fairly formal medium nowadays, and using it for this kind of social interaction feels stilted and old fashioned.

  22. Ruh Roh Raggy*

    This can also cause practical problems. The hiring manager sends a welcoming email to my personal address, CC’ing the whole office. Their email system then “remembers” that address, and when co-workers use auto-complete, it sends the email to my personal address. I’ve had this issue at my last couple of jobs, and it’s annoying!

  23. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

    Many, many years ago, I was working for an email service provider (ESP) – I started in November. A couple of weeks later, an email went around to all staff (around 50, I guess) asking who’d like to be included in the secret Santa. Many, many, MANY people hit reply all. It started to get annoying. A couple of office wags replied all saying simply ‘unsubscribe.’ (Remember, we were an email service provider)

    So I hit reply all and said ‘We here at ESP value your privacy. To unsubscribe, please reply with your email address, your inside leg measurement, your blood type, the blood type of your first born (if applicable), your full mailing address and the value of pi to 439498 digits. Thank you.’

    Several people were amused. It was probably not the most professional thing I could have done in my first couple of weeks, but it tickled me.

    1. Jessica*

      I would have cracked up if I had gotten that.

      But then I am the sort of person who whenever my office has a Reply-All storm and someone replys-all to ask everyone else to please stop replying all – I’m the sort of person who has to almost literally roll a will save not to reply-all to the request to stop replying all agreeing that we should all stop replying all. (I get a bonus to that will save if I’m at work because professionalism. If it’s a hobby / volunteer / etc list, all bets are off)

      1. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

        I LOVE the D&D/roll playing references in there. I clearly failed the will save ;)

        Even years later, I still occasionally fail will saves and let my…sarcastic sense of humour get the better of me. Fortunately, I’m not management (and don’t wish to be) and I’m in data and analytics so seem to get a pass (most of the time).

  24. Blarg*

    My org started using Teams for this — and it works. An email will go out “We’re pleased for announce that Sansa was promoted to senior llama groomer. Please share your congrats in Teams.”

    Compliance is actually really high. And I can mute the channel used for that kind of stuff and just pipe in every so often.

  25. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

    This is so funny. Just yesterday I sent a broadly distributed email welcoming someone who had joined my team from another part of the company – standard practice that I’ve done before. I was amused by the number of people who used reply all to send their personal “welcome to the team” to my new report. It was definitely more than usual. I wonder if some of those folks would have stopped by to greet my new report in person if we were not remote. That might explain more emails than usual, but not why so many of them were reply alls!

  26. Lucette Kensack*

    I don’t think it’s performative; it’s turning the celebration of good news into a collective experience. It’s like having a party for someone’s retirement as opposed to giving them a cake to eat by themselves. Sure, some folks don’t want to go to their coworker’s retirement party, but that doesn’t make retirement parties inherently bad/annoying/performative/inauthentic.

    Extraneous emails are more annoying than the retirement party because you can’t opt out of them, so it’s good to keep on eye on whether they’re really out of control and take action if they are. But 25 emails that take a split second to delete aren’t a huge burden, and collective celebrations are, on the whole, healthy and positive things.

    This fits into a larger theme of useful advice for work (and life): not everything that is personally unenjoyable (or annoying, or frustrating, and etc.) needs to be managed and eliminated. Sometimes we just need to feel annoyed and move on.

    1. Sleepless*

      I was sort of thinking this too. I work at a company with 30 employees. Most of them have never worked at large companies and don’t realize how quickly “reply all” can get out of hand, and it can be a little annoying. I don’t say anything because with only 30 people total, it never gets too bad. I personally have started replying all if someone is being congratulated, because in these times we need all the encouragement we can get. On the other hand, procedural emails like “everybody please stop doing X” I reply “ok, got it” only to the sender.

    2. lazuli*

      Yeah, I tend to like the reply-all nice stuff. (We’ve had some reply-all complaining and tech-issue-reporting that’s been not helpful.) It feels like a nice “Yay, us!” moment.

      I do try to be thoughtful about who I’m including on emails because a lot of our work is fairly collaborative or at least needs input from multiple sources (we tend to do a lot of work by email) and I keep running into situations where a recipient will start replying just to me and then I have to add everyone else back on, otherwise I get separate reply-all emails from everyone else asking whether the first person ever replied. I understand not hitting “reply-all” to a giant distribution list, but people have overgeneralized and stopped using it entirely sometimes.

      1. HelloHello*

        I also enjoy the nice reply all threads, as long as they don’t become a defacto mandatory thing to take part in. Especially since my company uses gmail, so it just shows up in my inbox as one threaded email chain rather than a bunch of individual emails. It’s nice to open up a thread and see my coworkers being happy for each other, and I don’t find it that difficult to ignore a single message with 10 or so threaded replies of congrats if I don’t have time to read it right away.

    3. Jean*

      Yes, this. Just because LW or Alison would feel “performative” doing it doesn’t mean that’s how the reply-all-ers feel. Maybe they want people to witness their giving congrats because it feels more celebratory or more significant that way.

      I wouldn’t be replying-all either, but I don’t like the idea that someone doing something a different way than you would must have cynical motives. It can be authentic and still annoy you, and like Lucette said, it can annoy you without being something you need to do anything about.

  27. Buffy*

    This won’t help the OP from getting this sort of email but for those who are looking for some options around preventing it when you send an email, Outlook has DRM options that you can use to prevent recipients from doing various things like Reply All or Forward. My company has informally shifted towards using, at minimum, DRM flags that prevent Reply All for mass org announcements.

  28. Dasein9*

    Immediately before reading this, I had a reply-all fail. (Nothing too serious, just my contribution to a Zoom social event thing that I sent to everyone and not the committee in charge of that.)

    But yeah, I apologized immediately to the person who is volubly annoyed by reply-all misuse.

    Still blushing.

  29. Syl*

    We have actually made it a company policy to BCC people to prevent just this. Whenever we send to a large group where it is not necessary to see who it is being sent to (like promotions and congratulations!), we just put one person (usually ourselves) in the to box and then BCC everyone. It really has cut down on the reply alls. Before this change, every large group email like this had an endless reply-all loop.

  30. GrumpyCubicle*

    A teammate and I decided to turn the reply all mania into a game. We each “draft” 3 of the most frequent offenders and get a point for each reply all our team scores. It has really helped turn my attitude around and I now find myself fist-pumping as I gain points instead of cringing at the situation.

    1. anon for this*

      At one of my former workplaces 14 or 15 years ago, someone went and found the office of the HR Reply-All Lady that none of us had ever actually met, and hatched a plan.

      They threw a fundraiser thing in the rooftop garden, entrance by donation, and had her there in person the entire time, pretending to be locked in a giant cage made out of a children’s straw connector set.

      (Apparently she thought it was hilarious, and she also took the hint well!)

  31. merope*

    I used to be annoyed by this practice as well, because it felt very performative (look how great I am, everyone can see me congratulating person x on their accomplishment), especially since it was primarily the same people who were the main culprits. I assumed that everyone else gave their congratulations privately, like respectable people.

    Then *I* had an accomplishment. The email went out, and do you know how many people sent congratulations privately? One. And since the performative people had moved on by then, I got no other congratulations from my colleagues. (I may still be a little bitter.)

    I have a very different attitude now: public congratulations ARE important, because they remind the rest of us to participate.

  32. Luna*

    At least it’s all the same congratulations, and not your inbox being flooded with people hitting reply-all and saying, “Stop hitting reply-all!!”

  33. RussianInTexas*

    Friend’s company once had an issue – when 10,000 people were replying all and overloaded the server. Woops.
    Also, you won’t change them.

  34. Treebeardette*

    This reminds of the time HR failed to inform the salary team of the health checks that were coming up. (We get discounts on our health insurance for doing health checks). They sent out a blaming email and made a big deal that no one signed up except for the hourly people. They have failed to share info with us multiple times.
    I may have, in irritation, hit replied all and said I didn’t know about it but please sign me up. Rest of the staff did the same thing. Lol the HR manager finally told us to stop.

  35. Sana*

    If you use, or could use, Microsoft Teams or a similar collaboration platform, this really helps cut down on this sort of thing. People can make those sort of announcements in there, people can comment as appropriate, and no one has to deal with a bunch of emails pinging back and forth.

  36. Sam*

    My office is terrible for this, too! A colleague and I try our best to model the behaviour we want to see:
    – NEVER replying all unless it is absolutely mandatory.
    – Making use of the Bcc field when recipients don’t need to know who was included on thread.
    – Where feedback is needed from multiple recipients, specifically saying “DO NOT reply all, send X only to me” in bold/italics.

    When it comes to passing on good vibes, I do think it’s important, and I make a point of reaching out privately with a genuine and personalized comment (“I’m so glad you’re moving into X role – you’re so great with clients, you’ll do a fantastic job!”) I find that much more meaningful than a generic “Congrats!” to a dozen people.

  37. RB*

    I was just thinking about this issue today and wondering if there was some company-wide policy that could be implemented to reduce the quantity of e-mails I’m getting. But it’s not just the Reply-All that’s causing this, it’s that I’m getting copied on a lot of things I don’t need to be copied on. But I don’t want to be the curmudgeonly person who writes an agency-wide e-mail complaining about this.

  38. cosmicgorilla*

    175 on a reply-all thread. That’s adorable.

    Try a few hundred to a few thousand, with new waves of responses popping up every time a new timezone comes online.

    Ignore function only works until some *&%^ idiot decides to change the subject line.

    Thank goodness IT imposed some limits on messages being sent to the largest mailers, so we haven’t seen one of these clusters in quite some time.

  39. Mopey*

    Know what really sucks? When the “reply alls” aren’t equal. At my workplace, my colleagues will pile on the “Congratulations!” and “So lucky to have you!!!!!!!!” when our Director or one of the “in crowd” celebrates a birthday or workplace anniversary. Others, like me, get little or no responses to similar messages.

  40. Kara S*

    If you use gmail, right click the email and select “mute”. You won’t get any more replies for that thread :~) If you don’t use gmail, there may be a similar function that you can use (including throwing the emails into a folder where any replies automatically skip your inbox)!

  41. Rex Jacobus*

    This was back in the 90s. It was the only time I was ever officially written up at work.

    I had to get into work early for some reason. I was doing IT in London for a huge insurance underwriter. In my mailbox was an email telling me that Justine would now be working from home. Instead of being sent to everyone in Sheffield as intended it had been sent to everyone in the UK (6000+ employees).

    I hit reply all and asked, “Why am I being told this? Is there a going away party?” So far no problems.

    About 20 minutes later someone else hit reply all and sent the message, “No one get Justine a kettle, I’ve already bought her one.” Still no problem.

    But then, between 9.00 and 9.05, so many people complained (and all of them hitting reply all) about me the other person wasting company time and resources that the fiasco brought the email server down. My boss was not happy.

  42. The Other Dawn*

    Maybe some people are being performative, but it seems more likely they’re just being lazy. Rather than hitting “Reply” and changing the recipient to the promoted coworker (or whatever the reason for the congrats) with a CC to the manager, people are hitting “Reply All” since it’s much easier and faster.

    Unless you’re getting tons of Reply Alls, just ignore it.

  43. Alex*

    Ugh, I’m on a professional list serve that my boss has asked me to be on. They frequently post news of major promotions or new staff (for senior positions) across the industry. For example, “Jane Bumblesworth named Director of Teapots at Teapots, Inc.!” or some such thing, and then for the rest of the freaking day people will reply all with “Congrats Jane!”. This is a list serve with thousands of people. WHY!!!!!! If you know Jane, send her a personal email telling her congrats. No one else on the list serve cares about your message.

  44. Fafa Flunkie*

    The simple solution to all of this: put all of those email addresses in the BCC: field! Problem solved! I have to send mass emails at work to remind our customers to place orders on time. I remember the one time I “oopsed” that and put my list in the “To” field. The anger from those customers to me for those who hit “reply all” instead of just “reply” made me never make that mistake again!

    1. Emma*

      My course team were terrible for replying all so I would send emails using BCC. They were so confused and acted like I’d used witchcraft or something, lol!

  45. Emma*

    Where I work there are about 20 of us, most emails are sent to all and of course everyone apart from me will reply all. It is the most irritating thing. “Does anyone know who so & so is, what course are they on”
    1. “no”
    2. “no”
    3. “not mine”
    4. “never heard of them”
    5. “are you sure they are on a course?”
    6. “yeah, they might be a new starter”
    7. “I think I know them! Let me check”
    8. “They are on my course”
    9. “oh that’s great, this is the message”
    7. “nope not mine, sorry!”
    4. “8 already claimed them”
    6. “It’s ok 7, 8 has sorted it”

    Then you get the people who check their emails 5 hours later and don’t start with the most recent in the chain so the whole thing starts over.

    The best reply all story I have though came when an email was incorrectly sent to ALL STAFF at a University. Multiple people replied all to tell the original emailer they had sent to all in error. Then multiple other people were replying all to tell those people they had replied all. Then irate people were replying all asking people to stop replying all. It went on for about 3 days. It was hilarious!

  46. LGC*

    I can also relate – I’ve had to politely remind some coworkers that they replied all…to the entire organization.
    I’ve also found that BCC for mass emails is actually really useful – it tends to head off any reply chains, if you’re sending out any mass emails yourself.

    Other than that…one of my coworkers literally replied to my out-of-office email like it was a regular email last week. (In her defense, my in-org OOO kind of looks like a regular email – it’s “Hey guys, I’m off until August 10, you know what to do.” But also, Outlook clearly marks it as an automatic reply.) I was shook.

  47. Workerbee*

    We had a Reply All culture in a previous org, and when I introduced Yammer and later Teams, I was able to show that not only does the conversation become linear, easily findable, and easily ignored if you prefer, but the legacy lasts much longer. New people joining the company could easily catch up—and, in those cases where their email wasn’t yet set up, actually see the happy message directed at them without having missed it (or it being buried under all the other newbie emails about logistics and stuff).

  48. Lkr209*

    I have a coworker who will message me on our work chat program with “Hey Sally, are you there?” Instead of “Hey Sally, can you confirm the account info for the new Jones account when you have a minute?” He’ll literally wait for me to respond before sending me any relevant info. We actually had an email sent out by our director addressing this specific issue (since the chat service is new to everyone), but this guy didn’t seem to pick up on it. It drives me ABSOLUTELY. CRAZY. every time, and I always wonder if I should say something to him and if so, what? Probably isn’t worth it, but it’s such a time-waster when it does happen.

    1. Always Learning*

      That’s one of my pet peeves too! Sometimes I get passive aggressive and don’t acknowledge their greeting alone, because I can’t just stop working to wait for them to type out their main message. I figure if it’s important enough, they’ll keep typing without getting a reply.

  49. But the emails*

    If your office sends these kinds of mass emails that don’t really require response out Bcc instead of To/Cc problem solved.

  50. S*

    Lol this could easily be about my company. We always had the announcements on email but I’ve seen a BIG uptick in the amount of reply all’s welcoming new hires or congratulating on promotions since we all started working remote due to the pandemic. I actually think it’s kind of sweet – we miss each other.
    But I’ve worked other places where it felt super annoying and performative so I definitely see how it can get old real fast.

  51. Always Learning*

    Being in corporate communications, I’ve found the following tips helpful for sending all-staff emails:
    – Bcc all except the person for whom the email is about. If they Reply All, only the person in question receives it.
    – Organize your emails by conversation in Outlook so they are grouped and can be easily deleted.
    – Use the “mute” feature for conversations in Outlook that you’d rather not see.

  52. LizM*

    Our leadership is pretty good at using BCC for all employee (10,000+ employees) annoucements, but every once in a while, they’ll accidentally put it in the To: line. My favorite part of those is the number of people replying all to say “I don’t know why I was added to this list, please remove me.”

    It’s an all employee list. The only way to get removed is to quit or be fired.

    It also takes some guts to reply to the Director of our agency (appointed by the President and Senate confirmed) telling them you don’t care about their annoucement.

    1. LizM*

      Sorry, I meant to also say, I think this is just a quirk in some workplaces. Honestly, it’s probably not a battle I would fight, because I don’t want to come across as the person scolding our Director. But I would mute the conversation and set my inbox in Outlook to group by conversation. I also don’t have desktop notifications for my emails to avoid getting interrupted if I’m working on something that takes focus. I know that’s not possible in every work place, but it helps things like this be less annoying.

  53. Heathers*

    I made an early career mistake of replying all to the reply alls when someone on a listserv I was part of got a promotion in my field. Something along the lines of “It’s great that Xavier got the promotion, but please stop sending these to the entire list, thanks!” It did not go over well and some pushed back actually calling me a spoil-sport, and I still worry it might have unnecessarily damaged my reputation.

  54. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    My company has this, but it’s on every blasted email, not the just fluffy ones.

    I solved it with a permitted list (née whitelist). If you can’t fire me or professionally reprimand me, I don’t get emails where my team is on the to or cc line. You have to use bcc or make the effort to type my name to get into my inbox.

  55. Bedtime*

    The server at my work once went down because of a reply-all incident with large images caused a major crash… it was a few years ago and is still lore for anyone that witnessed it (huge organization and someone accidentally gave access to everyone to send a distribution list, so instead of bouncing back there were hundreds of “stop e-mailing me!” messages to 20 thousand people…. it was epic).

  56. I'm just here for the cats*

    we use webex and my work. Typically whoever set up the meeting or gives permissions can mute anyone. Have you done this. Or if you dont want to call out your boss in the moment if someone could say in the beginning of the meeting, I’m going to mute everyone so there’s no echo. If its your turn to speak I’ll unmute you. Or if you have a question raise your hand (I’m not sure if all webex has this option but ours does. then the person conducting the meeting can answer the person)

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I dont know how but when I clicked reply it came to this page obiously this is not a response to this question.

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