Why Reply-All Emails Are Always the Wrong Move
Research says they suck as much as you think they do
Michael*, a Denver-based supply chain analyst, received a surprising email last year: a colleague had accidentally replied-all to the entire Denver office of over 100 people, sending a rundown of the amount of drugs he’d consumed at the music festival, Coachella.
“It was breathtaking,” Michael told me. “His follow-up reply 15 seconds later was somehow perfect in its brevity: ‘sorry everyone wrong email.’”
Michael’s colleague had inadvertently clicked “reply all” and told his entire team that he thought his drug dealer was fleecing him, in a pristine example of how the reply-all button can sabotage individual email senders. Maria*, a security researcher, told me she experienced something less criminal, but still somewhat embarrassing: she was invited to a radio show to discuss her work, only to have one of the hosts reply to the thread with, “Who the hell is Maria and why is she coming on the show?”
But these stories barely scratch the surface of what a nightmare accidental reply-alls can be. Last week, a deputy director of job training at the Utah Department of Corrections meant to send her close colleagues an invite to a potluck; instead, she accidentally included a list for more than 22,000 Utah government employees, resulting in so many reply-alls Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox jokingly called it an “emergency.” In 2016, a staffer in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service sent an accidental blank test email to 1.2 million employees, resulting in an estimated 186 million reply-all emails, many of which were people begging to be taken off the thread, and causing a three-hour delay in the organizations’ inboxes as the system struggled to keep up.
Management training is key to reducing the destructive influence of reply-all messages on office productivity and stress levels.
Reply all-pocalypses, or “email storms,” can slow or break down servers, as happened to the U.S. State…