A friend called me yesterday and said that he was upset about an email where his supervisor's secretary sent an email that listed four people and cc-ed a number of administrators.

A deadline was given for documents to be turned in by 5 pm, and 8:30 am the email was sent to all the people who did not send it by Friday a.m with all the people's names listed and cc-ed to others.

This young man was so offended and said that he did not need to know other people's business from the list of names, and didn't want his name out there; especially since the deadline was later in that day at 5 pm.

What are your thoughts?

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    is it everyone, or just everyone who needs to provide and/or work with the documents? – cdkMoose Sep 14 at 14:20
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    Any idea why "cc" rather than "bcc"? – Patricia Shanahan Sep 14 at 16:41
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    @PatriciaShanahan: indeed, but notice that many times emails are sent as CC by mistake. – Quora Feans Sep 15 at 13:17
  • @QuoraFeans By mistake or ignorance, the difference isn't always clear. – Mast Sep 15 at 14:59
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    @Mast: couldn't agree more. Ignorance of the difference between CC/BCC and ignorance of the important of privacy. Companies should ask more from their employees. – Quora Feans Sep 15 at 16:24

Without details, we can't really determine if your friend is being reasonable or overreacting. From my experience, it's fairly common practice to cc individuals that have outstanding tasks when providing updates to a superior.

Unless the paperwork is something that exposes personal information or if the requirement to complete it implies something confidential (i.e. termination forms, medical leave requests, ...) there's absolutely nothing wrong with how this was handled.

  • Process is mostly automated here. Friday there would be a friendly reminder as an automated email, by Monday my immediate superior would get an email and talk with me. Escalating to several administrators is dysfunctional. – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 15 at 4:53
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    @RuiFRibeiro, I agree that "escalating to several administrators" seems a bit odd, but we don't know the context here. Perhaps they simply needed to be informed since they were waiting on the information. – Steve Sep 15 at 11:39

I am assuming that producing these documents is something that involves a bit of work. My answer would be different if it is timesheets or similar document.

Shaming people and publicly pointing out their mistakes is a great way to kill morale. Huge faux pas on behalf of the sender. You can be sure that most people who got that email are as uneasy as you about it.

If I got such a request/demand with a deadline I would go to my closest manager because she is the one who decides on my priorities. I would not even consider working on the task without clearing it with her first. So my back would be clear when the second email comes. And when my back is clear, who looks like the fool?

This would be my reply:

I discussed this with Boss and we will not be able to deliver these documents by the deadline. Feel free to talk to her if you need her to change my priorities.

This email would point out that I have other important work tasks, follow a planned process, and also give a course of action if the request is indeed important.

I have sent similar messages many times in my career because getting late requests out of process seems to be the favorite pastime for some people. I understand that others also have a job to do, and I am happy to sidestep the process for quick tasks when I have the time. I love to make someone else's day a little easier. But if the task is demanding or I have other deadlines to meet I would not hesitate to involve my own manager.

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    I agree with the sentiment, but I think you've read too much into the question, and assumed that it is in relation to a deadline that is going to be missed. I read it as simply a chaser/reminder, without any connotation that the deadline will be missed. – Jon Bentley Sep 15 at 11:11

It sounds like it was for documents (in my company, that's usually timesheets!) to be turned in by Thursday 5pm, with a reminder on Friday at 8:30am.

Someone else is trying to do their own job, and without those documents, they can't continue (again, e.g., timesheets).

All your friend needs to do is get the documents required in by (or before) the deadline, and they won't appear on the reminder list.


It would probably have been more polite if the sender had used bcc instead of cc.

If these workers are required to produce documents like time sheets or status reports as individuals, not as part of some team activity, there is no reason why person A needs to know that person B also needed a reminder, especially since B might have a valid reason for being unable to meet the deadline - e.g. absence because of a medical condition.

If this was a team activity, IMO it is quite reasonable to be told that other members of the same team are delaying the process, so that the team can reorganize the work (either formally or informally) to meet the required deadline.

It is impossible to judge whether A's supervisor/manager/team leader also need to knows that A has been reminded of the deadline, since we don't know the consequences of missing it. That may be trivial (e.g. failing to submit a weekly time sheet) or catastrophic for the company as a whole (e.g. inability to deliver a major project to a customer without the required legal sign-off by all the relevant individuals.)

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    "It would probably have been more polite if the sender had used bcc instead of cc." – Why? The email would have been sent to the exact same group of people, except the recipients wouldn't have known about it. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 15 at 2:37
  • @JörgWMittag The answer explains why - "there is no reason why person A needs to know that person B also needed a reminder". – Jon Bentley Sep 15 at 15:39
  • @JonBentley: But according to the question, the people who needed the reminder were in To, not in CC, so they will still know everybody who needed a reminder. They just would no longer know that all the administrators also know everybody who needed a reminder. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 15 at 15:42
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    @JörgWMittag You are nitpicking. Re-read the question: "This young man was so offended and said that he did not need to know other people's business from the list of names". What this answer means is that the list of people being reminded should be in BCC not in CC or To. – Jon Bentley Sep 15 at 15:43
  • @JonBentley Speaking of nitpicking, the non-productive answer to the question would be for the friend to stop putting their nose on other people's business and reading the CC list of the email... – Juliana Karasawa Souza Sep 16 at 7:43

Assuming the secretary needs to achieve the following:

  1. Remind the people who have work to submit (the "submitters") of the upcoming deadline
  2. Inform the administrators that these are the people still to submit
  3. Have both parties know that the other group has been informed, that is:
    • the administrators know the submitters have been reminded of their deadline
    • the submitters know that the administrators are aware of this

How should the secretary procede?

  1. Email the submitters (using TO), CC the administrators: the submitters feel their privacy is violated and/or they are being publicly shamed
  2. BCC the submitters (to protect their privacy), CC the administrators: the administrators can't see who the submitters are
  3. Email the administrators the list of submitters: this doesn't function as a deadline reminder for the submitters
  4. Send each submitter an individual email, CC the adminstrators every time: the administrators get an unwanted number of emails
  5. BCC the submitters, send the administrators a list of submitters: the submitters don't know the administrators have been informed about them
  6. Send the administrators a list of submitters, [in a separate email] BCC the submitters and mention that the administrators have been informed: perhaps the best, but risks losing the casual 'FYI' feel of CC and feeling more like a stern warning

We can see it's not quite so simple!

Your friend may be justified in feeling somewhat publicly shamed, especially if they had already planned to submit during the day ahead of the deadline. On the other hand, it may be that this was a simple "in-case-you've-forgotten" reminder that's regular practice in the organisation, and isn't considered as negative as your friend has perceived it.

Of course, it could be that the organisation uses these passive-aggressive reminders to shame people into submitted on time, in which case your friend's feelings are justified!


Our online course management system lets instructors do this for assignments. I use it a lot for my students on major projects - like 2 or 3 days before I'll send a reminder "Hey don't forget that this is due in a few days, and tomorrow is the last scheduled lab session before your deadline".

But due to FERPA (US federal law that protects privacy of educational records) these are sent as BCCs or as multiple original messagse, not a single CC to everyone. So it is obviously something many would consider personal or private, and should be something between employee and supervisor(s), not multiple employees that do not report to each other.

Praise in public, chastise or correct in private. End result? Possibly in poor taste, but you have no standing for anything really...

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