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I really would like to send an email to all the colleagues working in my department about tomorrow's strike and the recent UN report about climate change with some links in order to raise their attention about the topics. I can meet with most of them, but I am not acquainted and sending an email is a way of reaching all of them.

I work in a university and I can access the emails of my colleagues (I don't know directly all of them) from the system we are using. Usually this system is used for work-related communications, incoming seminars, meetings, bureaucratic stuffs, Christmas happenings involving the whole department. In my lab it is common to share emails about birthdays and family stuffs, but it is my lab only, I personally know each member, and I'm in a friendly relationship with all of them.

I am unsure whether this would be a misuse of our working email (actually, I have never received such kind of emails from any colleague, or none I can remember).

Also, I've never heard about specific policies about which kind of emails can or can not be sent.

Any previous experience with something similar? Do you think I can send the mail or not?

EDIT:

I see that one of the most recurrent comments is related to the potential nature of such an email. I never intended it as politically involved, but more as an informative notice about something that might be of interest and that is actually happening. Probably, mentioning the strike made it, somehow, more politically involved, but that was not the point.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Nov 29 '19 at 19:19

14 Answers 14

100

Is it rude?

The question you should really be asking here is, is it allowed?

The answer is : No.

I am unsure whether this would be a misuse of our working email (actually, I have never received such kind of emails from any colleague, or none I can remember).

Yes, it will be considered a misuse.

Do not use official resource for any unofficial / non-business reasons.

Also I've never heard about specific policies about which kind of emails can or can not be sent.

  • Unless mentioned explicitly, any official resource, made available to anyone, is for official use only.
  • Unless your role specifically includes responsibilities for spreading awareness about social causes, using the information (e-mail address) and the resource (official / work e-mail) would not be allowed.

That said, if you want to do good, you can have posters made and affixed to the general notice board (if one available), or have a post made to the official recreational channel / blog at your workplace. If you don't have enough info to decide on your own, get in touch with the HR department (or, admin department) to let you know of a proper channel. They may authorize your to send the email, or have an awareness email sent on your behalf.

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    @gabt I understand, that's why I asked to check with HR. Who knows, they may actually allow you to send the e-mail you wanted to send, or, have that sent on your behalf. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 28 '19 at 8:31
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    100% agree, you cannot use business channels for personal agenda. Everyone belies in something and have strong opinion on one topic or other. Posters in general areas are the best place to put your point accross – Strader Nov 28 '19 at 16:13
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    It's a bit of a reach to say it'd never be allowed. Every job I've had, there's been some measure of this behaviour, and it's always been permitted. I've usually found it to be inappropriate though. And mind you these are in small companies which are usually more lax about such things. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 28 '19 at 19:27
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    If they don't have a policy at that point in time, they probably will after! – Mars Nov 29 '19 at 0:44
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    HR that are lax about this are usually companies that haven't deal with the massive lawsuits that can occur once you involve corporate assets into personal topics that can get deeply personal. Large companies experienced or have lawyers that experienced it, and will stomp it out. Their response will feel cold, but if you've ever been on the wrong side of this, you'll know how bad it can get. Please don't use company channels to send personal communication. – Nelson Nov 29 '19 at 3:37
73

Don't do this.

The problem isn't really that it's not work related - as you say innocuous non-business use already happens on a smaller scale and is generally accepted, or at the very least tacitly ignored. That's not what this is though - this is mass mailing staff (many of whom you don't even know) on the organisation's e-mail platform about something political in nature. The relative merits of your topic are irrelevant, it's a blatant overstep and misuse of the work's email.

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    Something political in nature that also isn't endorsed (as far as we know) by the employer – Player One Nov 28 '19 at 12:40
  • The thing is: it really isn't political at all. – Eric Duminil Nov 28 '19 at 20:53
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    @EricDuminil As soon as you want someone to change laws or regulations, or divide tax money, it's political. A strike surely sounds like they are trying to get a policy change. – pipe Nov 28 '19 at 21:35
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    @PlayerOne If it is endorsed by the employer it should be no problem to talk with some company official and suggest to them they send a reminder mail – Frank Hopkins Nov 28 '19 at 22:52
  • @FrankHopkins Yes. That isn't what the OP was asking though, which I was trying to point out. – Player One Nov 29 '19 at 10:21
34

Messages which can be perceived as political should not be sent to your colleagues. They have built in that there is consensus on some subjects where there may be none.

People with other views will see it as if there is a company-wide policy on those subjects.

Would you find it acceptable if another colleague would send round a link to a report about the dangers of migration?

In short: don't send messages in bulk which can be perceived as political.

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    yes, this is another very good point which I wasn't considering. – gabt Nov 28 '19 at 8:39
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SPAM is actually never acceptable, regardless of whether it is sent to acquaintences in your job, or acquaintences elswhere. So, you should not send any of your proposed SPAM regarding politics, to your coworkers or to anyone else by email whom you do not know well.

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  • That's not what I would call spam, and I don't think the definition of spam should be broadened to encompass this issue. – President James K. Polk Nov 29 '19 at 14:14
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    @JamesReinstateMonicaPolk I'd totally call it spam. – Oscar Bravo Nov 29 '19 at 14:20
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    @OscarBravo: Yeah, you're right. Somehow I totally missed that he was planning to send it to all his colleagues. That's spam all right. – President James K. Polk Nov 29 '19 at 14:22
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    This is literally the definition of "spam", as in "UBE – Unsolicited bulk email". It is an email, it is sent in bulk (i.e. not to a specifically targeted audience), and it is unsolicited (the recipients didn't ask to receive it). – Jörg W Mittag Nov 29 '19 at 17:19
  • The definition of SPAM should not be "broadened", nor should it "include an issue", because the definition already includes this STUPID, ANNOYING, (part of the original acronym), UNSOLICITTED, PETITION-RELATED, MASS-EMAIL, and POLITICAL e-mail... each except the first two which are universally SPAM on their own without including other traits. And because no "issue" is included in the categorization as SPAM. – Raven Nov 30 '19 at 11:09
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In addition to the issues the other answers raised regarding the wisdom of bringing politics up in a 'work' channel there is another issue.

Generally if you are supposed to be able to mail the entire organisation there will be a distribution list for that. Sometimes these exist but are restricted to authorised users only to cut down on spam. Sticking a large number of individual email addresses together to mail the whole org could be seen as deliberately subverting this.

If you are foolish enough to use the To or CC fields instead of BCC you could be the cause of an entire day of people replying all to take them off the list followed by a few dozen me too messages which will trigger more angry mails from people who will of course use Reply All so everyone knows how angry they are.

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  • yes, we do have distribution lists but using a long list of email addresses, as you put it, it would cause an actual mess since usually, at least in my experience, people do use Reply all! – gabt Nov 28 '19 at 14:04
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    Additionally, at least under GDPR you could cause a data breach with that. – Lehue Nov 28 '19 at 14:15
  • @lehue that may lead to a totally different question. Anyway...in that case is the respondent's fault, isn't it? – gabt Nov 29 '19 at 7:18
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    @Lehue: The GDPR gives several reasons when processing and even forwarding PII is allowed. The one that everybody is focused on, is the "free, informed, explicit consent", but there are others, i.e. a "legitimate need" (a doctor may need to forward medical information in a consultation), a contractual relationship, etc. In this case, I would argue that company email addresses appearing in a company address book that all company employees have access to, are not a problem. In my company, we actually sign a consent form for this, but I am pretty sure that's just double CYA. It would be … – Jörg W Mittag Nov 29 '19 at 17:24
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    … legal even without this. Now, customer information in the CRM, that is a whole different can of worms. For example, CRMs often contain a customer company's CTO's wife's birthday, so you can send a gift basket, etc. This is information that the CTO may have shared with his specific account manager on a personal basis and thus must not be accessible to anybody else, even in the case where another sales person takes over the account. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 29 '19 at 17:27
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As a counter to the other answers, I'll say that this will vary by location, but is somewhat more likely to be acceptable at an academic institution. For example: At my university it has been a long-standing policy and practice that political and organizational information is communicated by university email. It's been pretty much a daily occurrence in the two decades that I've worked here.

Caveats: Yes, some people don't like it and complain. About a year ago some feathers were ruffled in a particular way; technically the official university email stopped being used, and everyone was signed up for an "optional" email listserver, through which all email now gets sent through. But since that includes official business, effectively everyone needs to maintain it, so the effect is exactly the same. My understanding is we have union contract protection to use it for union organizing purposes.

That said, a minority of people actually use the email in this fashion (I never have). I would probably follow the practice on the ground at your institution -- if you've never seen it get used that way, I would lean toward not breaking that custom.

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Info about a global strike? Potentially work-related, but only in the context that delays/difficulty getting into work might be a thing. Beyond that it's a bad idea.

Don't send political stuff through work emails. People open their work mailbox to deal with work queries, not to hear about political stuff. This can easily be construed as a violation of Acceptable Use Policies which, as you mentioned, forbids non-work-related stuff being sent. And you might annoy someone enough for them to raise a complaint.

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  • i've never heard about policies related to emails in the place I work but still I will consider your point too. Anyway I would find funny to file a complaint about an email but as you pointed out...it might happen and I surely don't want to. – gabt Nov 28 '19 at 14:08
  • @gabt There are a lot of people who will take the 'low road' and try to screw people over small/perceived slights or simply not agreeing with them. Definitely a minority in the grand scheme of things, and I'm not saying that such a person is in your mailing list, but do you know for sure they aren't? And are you willing to deal with someone with a Boomer-mindset on the warpath if they are? – 520 says Reinstate Monica Nov 28 '19 at 16:11
  • If OP works in climate or environmental science then it's also related due to the content of the work. – gerrit Nov 28 '19 at 20:12
  • @520saysReinstateMonica, surely I dont' want to since, as we all probably have experienced, what George Carlin once said about arguing with idiots turns out to be true (goodreads.com/quotes/…) – gabt Nov 29 '19 at 7:22
  • @gerrit, I am not so I can't say that is related. – gabt Nov 29 '19 at 7:23
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I'll chime in with another way of looking at this:

Hi everyone,

This is Bob Bobson in Department XYZ. I just wanted to let you know that the 'Asians are Ruining This Country' rally is starting at 6 PM tonight in front of the Confucius Temple. Hope to see you all there!

Cordially, Bob Bobson

... does it seem wrong for Bob to be using his work email to mass send this to everyone?

"But... Bob's wrong!"

If that was your first thought, you should probably back up a step. You're wanting to impose one set of rules on people you agree with and think are in the right, and another set of rules you disagree with. That gets really tricky, really quickly. Who determines what's "right"? Or worse: what happens when someone like Bob determines what's right?

The whole thing's not worth it - to anyone involved. The company doesn't want it - it stirs up discontent for zero benefit. The people who disagree with you don't want it. And you might think that you want it... until you start seeing a bunch of emails for stuff you don't agree with clogging up your inbox.

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  • I see your point but, I believe that having different perspective on different topics may broaden a person's point of view and surely improve the knowledge about what you think is right or wrong. If you don't know that some people believe that "Asians are runining this country" (or whatver they think) you will never do anything to confute what they're saying. But this is not the point of the question (maybe)! – gabt Dec 2 '19 at 7:40
  • @JoeStrazzere of course I don't, that was the whole point of my question and all of you somehow agree that I must not send that email (eventually, I didn't). That's it, and your answers gave me a lot to think about! – gabt Dec 4 '19 at 7:25
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Your specific question is "Do you think I can send the email or not?"
That is not the most important question you should be asking.

Misuse arises both from official policy and recipient reactions, and the latter will "inform" the former.

I do not know what views you hold.
However, consider: Some people, perhaps many, would consider that:

  • Your views on climate change are stupid.

  • Your position on the strike is untenable.

  • The links you are sending are biased and jingoistic in their content position ethos and integrity.

NOW - place yourself in the position of colleagues who feels like this about what you send.
How many people have you spammed?
How many people feel anything like educated rather than "invaded"?
How many complaints are you willing to field and defend yourself against?

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    @gabt In your OP you say you want to raise awareness. That is political advocacy. It is not your job to make sure everyone is aware about things you care deeply about. Nobody responding to this thread thinks this is a good idea that will end well for you. Take a hint... – Oscar Bravo Nov 29 '19 at 9:37
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    @gabt Try this: There is no doubt that mankind has had and is having an effect on climate. This effect can be traced from 5000 years BC - and maybe earlier with the spread of slash and burn agriculture and then opening up areas for ongoing cultivation. While the effects of anthropgenic input are not insignificant their main effect so far seems to have been to delay the onset of the next "iceage" - perhaps by as much 2000 years. Based on all available scientific evidence we can expect an iceage in the relatively near future in historical terms. Anything w can do to increase temperatures ... – Russell McMahon Nov 29 '19 at 10:10
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    @gabt Russell is winding you up... He's having a laugh. – Oscar Bravo Nov 29 '19 at 14:19
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    @OscarBravo Not quite. I was trying to make the point that one man's reasonable advocacy and explanation is another man's red rag to a bull. I can argue both sides and am aware of how annoying people find it when they are wedded to one point of view. Spam them with the sopposing view point and you'll be hearing about it. – Russell McMahon Nov 29 '19 at 15:04
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    @OscarBravo DO note the iceage comments. We are 2000 years overdue compared to any of the last 4 cycles. Why does (almost) nobody seem to notice ??? !!! :-) – Russell McMahon Nov 29 '19 at 15:06
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Sending a group mail about non-work-related topics on an official work/academics group address isn't going to help your cause in any way.

What most people will probably do is skim the mail, see that it's nonwork related and delete it as spam. If you're unlucky, they remember your name and will from then on handle your other mails (even official ones!) with very low priority.

You need some less formal communication channel that people are expected to ignore if they're not interested in nonwork related stuff. At my job we are using Slack. Certain Slack channels are obligatory and can only be used for official messages. Certain other channels (like #random) are perfect for posting links like what you want to do.

If there are no such communication channels available you might be get away with sending an e-mail to the rest of your lab since that is already used for less formal things (like birthdays, etc...).

Be careful with what you're bringing into the workplace. If someone feels strongly against some of your things it might make it harder to stay friendly with you from then on.

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  • using Slack is a good idea but we have it only internally in our lab and, to be honest, none of my colleagues are actually using it. I'll consider to stick to my lab-mates and to the notice board, probably. – gabt Nov 28 '19 at 8:43
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    @gabt Whatever you do, absolutely do not send a mass email. The cause may be good, but imagine if everyone would send emails like this. You would get a warning. You may not use work office resources for personal agenda, no matter if its good or bad. If you want to get an exception or you're not sure if you're doing something you're not supposed to, just ask your boss! :) (tip, you might be able to go around this by sending an email to ask people to be more involved in the work's Slack/Social media in general). – Jonast92 Nov 28 '19 at 10:10
  • @Jonast92 yes, you have a good point but I work in a department where computers are still used for excel and browsing the internet, hence It will take a very long time in order to make people acquainted with this "modern technologies". – gabt Nov 29 '19 at 7:27
  • Re "Be careful with what you're bringing into the workplace.": And millennials? – Peter Mortensen Nov 29 '19 at 17:00
  • Especially since three people will do a Reply All, and the ensuing flame war... Well, management is not going to like it, and you could be seen as having started it. Also: if you do it, others will think that it's acceptable to do it. You don't want to be 'made an example of'. – Technophile Nov 30 '19 at 20:36
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Another reason for never sending unsolicited emails is that your email may be viewed as a security incident.

At my university, a student sent a mass email to 80K people to remind everyone to vote for them in the student elections the next day.

The email only took seconds to send but the investigation lasted a year.

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No, don't do it, and yes, it's rude. It's bigger than just email, and it's bigger than a question of company policies.

send an email to all the colleagues ... to raise their attention about the topics.

You're talking about sending them information that they have not asked for. You have no reason to think that anyone will welcome the information. In fact, that you want to "raise their attention" means that you know that they are not wanting this information. It's what you want, not what they want.

Think beyond email. Imagine you're in the cafeteria having lunch and one of your colleagues comes up to your table and hands out leaflets about the local charity that they're interested in. I know many folks would find the intrusion rude.

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    in my experience if someone left me something to read I would say "thank you" then look at what they wanted to say. It's that is thrash...then I already know what to do with the leaflet...otherwise it may happens that I lear something new. But, apparently, from the answers and the commenst, I must say that this isn't true! – gabt Dec 2 '19 at 7:34
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Disregarding the fact that a business communication channel should be used for business-related communication, the general rule of thumb still is: If you feel like you wouldn't be able to tell a person about this in person to their face, then you shouldn't be emailing them about it as well.

E-mail creates this illusory veil that you are somehow disconnected from the person you are emailing. However, the end result will be the same. If you think that if you tell them this in person that they will ask: "Who are you?" or "Why are you telling me this?" then the same questions and reactions will still be had, except you won't hear them in person.

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I am generally in agreement with all of those answers which say, "Don't do this." And, I am generally in agreement with many of the reasons provided by those answers, which basically amount to "this is off-topic", "this is political", etc.

Although, an issue close to your heart can seem pretty non-political to you. And, you may see other people do such things, and seem to get away with it. So, how can you know whether this is appropriate or not?

I will quickly share with you the one time that I did something like this, and seem to have gotten away with it well. I was a college instructor, and I E-Mailed the entire staff at the college inviting them to a service at my church. I ended up receiving no feedback except a few people thanking me for the E-Mail. However, this wasn't just a case of "I have my religious views, and they are important to me, and so I will convince people to obtain what I believe are true beliefs." There was more to the story. The other relevant parts to the story are:

  • This was done shortly (maybe 3-4 weeks) after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. This stunned the nation, leaving many people to seek some answers about life (a bit similar to that happening after the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001). Some people may be interested in seeking some sort of healing. There was a (temporary) widespread increase in interest in checking out church services.
  • The pastor of my church was a very popular speaker.
  • The pastor of my church said he intended to talk about the Boston Marathon bombing.
  • When preaching, my pastor has frequently mentioned his hobby of running.
  • He was actually a participant in the Boston Marathon on the day that the bombing occurred.

That last bullet point is the only reason I dared write the E-Mail I did. We lived on the opposite side of the continent, and yet I knew of an upcoming rare event of an actual surviving participant being able to give his first-hand story of the attack. (And it ended up being a more interesting story than expected... his wife also ran in the marathon, and the bomb blew up between them, and they quickly each figured out that their pre-arranged plans on where and when to re-unite were ruined.)

If you know of some information that I am unlikely to be able to get from any other source, then many people may not see this as entirely inappropriate. (They might roll their eyes a bit, but may be rather unlikely to be too concerned and/or complain too much). Some examples might be:

  • an invitation from you to an event you are personally hosting, like a birthday party for your child (but not a commercial money-making event where you are hoping for sales)
  • if you are organizing a group sale, e.g. bulk-rate discounted tickets for a state-wide sports team's game

Realize that even in these cases, some people may disapprove and roll their eyes for being rather off-topic. However, regarding the topics you wrote:

  • tomorrow's strike
    • What is this a strike for? If this is a strike at your place of work, then some people may consider this somewhat relevant. If it is a strike for a school district and you're organization is not related to education, then this seems off-topic.
  • the recent UN report about climate change with some links in order to raise their attention about the topics.
    • If your organization is not directly involved with climate (or something very related, like "air quality"), then this is likely quite off-topic.

Giving people off-topic news "in order to raise their attention about the topics" sounds quite off-topic. I think a lot of people would have this attitude:

"If I wanted to learn about such an issue, I could check out news reports or find such information myself. If you wish to evangelize about such a topic, please only consider risking such damage to our relationship during off-time. Don't use work resources, which I am required to view to get my job done at work, to promote your own agenda."

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