The rise of 'ego-mail': Office workers use email tactics to climb career ladder

Olivia Rudgard
Working remotely means employees are keen to show that they are still being productive  - Reuters

Ambitious employees have long struggled with the best method to show off their latest big success or point out that a colleague is struggling.

But the addition of email has created a whole new way for them to get ahead. 

Pushy office workers are increasingly using "ego-mail" as a way to climb the career ladder, experts said. 

Constant availability of email on smartphones has made it one of the primary ways that ambitious workers demonstrate their competence and push for promotion. 

One common method is to copy management into an email thread to show off - or show a colleague up. 

A study by Professor David De Cremer of the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, found that employees who regularly CC - or "carbon copy" their boss in to email replies do this deliberately to unsettle their co-workers.

In a piece published on the Harvard Business Review, Professor De Cremer said: "This finding suggests that when your coworkers copy your supervisor very often, they may be doing so strategically, as they consciously know what the effect will be on you".

Professor Tom Jackson of Loughborough University said that men are more likely to engage in this behaviour than women.

"Anecdotally from our research I would say that males are much more focused on doing this. Females might know how to do it but maybe stop short of actually doing it.

"Males have no shame - they just go ahead and do it," he said. 

He said that showing off via email appears to work for those who try it, as it means managers remember pushier employees when deciding who to promote.

This means that women might be missing out on promotions which are handed instead to their male colleagues who are less embarrassed about using email to show off. 

At a glance | The gender pay gap

Experts said the behaviour was bad for employees and workplaces as it increased stress and related illnesses. 

David D'Souza, of HR organisation the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said it was a sign of an unhealthy working environment and showed that employees were "fearful" for their jobs.

"It's very important for organisations to make their decisions based on competence, not levels of self-promotion," he added. 

How employees use email in order to climb the career ladder, according to the experts 

  • Going out of their way to email their boss late at night or early in the morning to show their commitment to the job. The most dedicated can even schedule emails to be sent at an unsociable time so it looks like they are working.
  • Sending an email to the whole team telling them about a recent achievement, and copying in their boss.
  • Sending unnecessary emails while working remotely to prove to management that they are still getting things done.

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