Does the CEO really need to know that your headphones are missing? Perhaps think twice about that all-staff email, suggests Evan Williams.
When war breaks out in the office, the all- staff email is the most drastic measure that a combatant can take.
It’s used only when all other options have been exhausted: you’ve already placed the slip in the suggestion box about the disgusting pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen or you’ve had a quiet word to your manager about the lack of toilet paper. If you really want something to change, you have to get out of the trenches and meet your enemies head-on.
Be warned: the all-staff email is a high- risk manoeuvre. Do it well and you’ll be celebrated by colleagues stewing over the same dish pile. But do it poorly and the only honour you’ll be awarded is the title of Office Sociopath.
There’s no room for error. Any use of exclamation marks, underlining, bolding or caps – no matter how tasteful – could firmly place you in the latter camp. And thinking of increasing the size of the text in your email? Congratulations! Your Office Sociopath badge is ready for you to pick up from reception.
Though I’ve been confronted by fridge smells, disturbed by questionable bathroom etiquette and frustrated by milk-cadging colleagues, I’ve never sent a serious all-staff email. To find out what it’s like, I spoke with the author of one of the more spectacular all-staff emails I’ve encountered. The sender wishes to remain anonymous so I’ll refer to her as Senior Commander of Crockery.
“When you work in an office,” the Commander tells me, “the only thing there is to look forward to in the day is lunch.”
That day, the Commander was looking forward to a delicious crisp salad. “I go to make it,” she says, “and there’s no bowl, no knife, no fork.” They had all been stolen from her desk and she could not control her rage. “I sat down, then and there, and smashed out my manifesto.” Perhaps, in hindsight, not a wise decision. “I was hungry and that probably made me angrier.”
The diatribe was a masterpiece among all-staff email writing, with several helpful suggestions for colleagues seeking kitchen implements. After noting the plentiful supply in the kitchen cupboard and the plastic cutlery available upstairs, she ended with a map and directions to a nearby Victoria’s Basement kitchenware outlet.
“I have to admit that the moment I hit send, I felt an impending sense of doom,” she recalls. “I felt like everyone was looking at me... it’s not for the faint-hearted.”
Was it all worth it, though? Unfortunately, no. Not only did the Commander never see her bowl, knife and fork again, she was also taken aside by her supervisor. “I’m not saying this as your boss, I’m saying this as your friend,” he said.
“Don’t do that again. I’ve worked in offices a lot longer than you and people don’t like it.”
Yes, it’s a risky business, calling out many for the sins of a few. But when Justin’s baked beans start looking like they need a biohazard sign, the communal fruit bowl is sabotaged by Bianca the banana hoarder or the office headphone thief remains at large, all-staff emailers around the world would be wise to remember the words of former army officer Sir Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
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