You’ve read and re-read the email four times.

You’ve finally got the updated distribution list from IT.

The clock is ticking.

Your cursor is trembling over the send button.

What could be causing you so much anxiety? So much fear?

What could you possibly be sending that could make you feel this kind of trepidation and worry?

Nuclear codes? A breakup email? A resignation letter? Classified intelligence?

Nah.

You’re sending an all-staff email.

These three little words have the power to make communicators worldwide buckle over with nausea or scream to the heavens in frustration. (Rumour has it employees aren’t too keen on them either.)

The truth is, all-staff emails are ripe for disaster.

And when you bunk it up (which you will, eventually) it can cause anything from mild embarrassment to major trouble.

But all-staff emails are hard to avoid.

From the limited abilities of Outlook for company-wide sending, to the centuries it takes to get updated distribution lists from IT, when it comes down to it you may not have a choice but to send an all-staff email.

Kyla Sims on LinkedIn and Twitter: Hey communicators! What's your worst all-staff email story? Or what's the worst email you've sent to all staff? Example: When the CEO emailed 10,000 staff about his boat that was for sale.
I asked my friends on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Comms-unity (our Slack group for IC pros) to send me their worst all-staff emails, and gosh darn it, you folks did not disappoint.

So before you hit send on your all-staff email, make sure you read these 10 worst all-staff emails fails so you can learn from our mistakes and send with confidence.

 

10. The all-staff emails that definitely should not go to all staff


When you’re sending internal emails through Outlook and you have to wait weeks on your IT department to splice and dice your distribution lists, sometimes an all-staff email is the only option to get timely information out fast.

And sometimes that timely information is about chicken...


We once let all employees know that rotisserie chickens would be available for sale at a single hospital location.

... or if goats are covered under insurance. 

From Kate on Comms-Unity:Ohhhh, I'm in HR so I have got some GOOD ones... We have an "ALL-HR" distro (which should really be restricted to just HR usage...), and we have gotten notes about people's private medical conditions, oddly specific questions about insurance coverage (is my goat covered under pet insurance, YEP), and my all-time favorite, "Hi - This is my formal resignation, not really sure on next steps but I want everyone to know." And everyone did... all 55 of us...

9. Tone-deaf all-staff messages from leadership


An all-staff email from a leader can be extremely powerful. It can drive morale, align employees, and create a connection between front line staff and the c-suite.

And as internal communicators, you spend a lot of time coaching and advising leaders on communication best practices (including the do’s and don’ts of all-staff emails) so you can influence these initiatives.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, they just don’t get it.

Patrick Icasas on LinkedIn: Not an email, but a VP sent a company wide Skype message asking if anyone wanted his leftover half-a-dinner roll. Assurances that it will still clean didn't appeal to anyone. Go figure.

 

Anne Yourt on LinkedIn: Internal note on the value of diversity signed by an executive team lacking diversity...

8. The all-staff emails that make you ask, “Is this really my job?”


Professional communicators are absolutely essential players in reinforcing company culture and alignment, influencing productivity, branding, messaging, and a zillion other components that are vital to an organization.

But sometimes, you’re also just the messenger.

Becky Graebe on Twitter: Had to let employees know there was a wild pig running around campus.

10 embarassing all staff emails-07 (1)


7. The poorly timed all-staff email


A good email is succinct, accurate, relevant, and timely.

And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we miss the mark.

Priya Bates on LinkedIn: I often sent holiday-type emails from the company president. We were a retailer so holidays and special occasions were part of our business and employees loved his notes. After a team meeting where the PR team shared a calendar for upcoming events, I realized that a Jewish high holiday was coming this next week that was worth calling out. We sent the president's message only to quickly get responses from our Jewish employees that the holiday fell the week prior. I was devastated. I always check and recheck, but made the mistake to assume the planning calendar was correct. I apologized right away, took ownership of the mistake and told the president that he should simply blame me for the error. He chose to send out a follow up message (that I wrote)from himself apologizing for the error. Since that day I check and double check dates myself.

Sonia Fiorenza on LinkedIn:My team was responsible for the "employee of the quarter" awards. They were always kept a secret and announced by the CEO in person at a special event...we went to great lengths to make sure the unsuspecting winners were present and even wrote his speech so you didn't really know who the winner was until he got to the end (it was fun to watch people's faces as they realized they were a winner). After the event, we would email the winners announcement to the company. My team member was prepping the email prior to the event and accidentally hit send, thus pre-announcing the winners. It was my team that made the mistake, so I took accountability for it. And learned to never, ever put names in the "to" field while still drafting the message.


6. The all-staff email with the risky spelling mistake


Some spelling mistakes are no big deal.

But some spelling mistakes will get you in big ship.

Ryan Leclaire on LinkedIn: All I will say is, at some point, most of us make the "assess" vs "asses" mistake.


Some might even haunt you.💀

David Romanis on LinkedIn: An old colleague of mine had to resend his last newsletter at the company to the 9,000-strong Finance team as he’d originally sent it out with “Dead Colleagues,” at the start rather than “Dear”...

And... well, sometimes there are no words...😬

Toby Borella on Comms-Unity: I once sent an email to around 1500 people that was meant to be titled ‘About your public liability insurance’. Unfortunately for me I missed the L in public. Rebecca English-Williams on LinkedIn: Many years ago I sent an email out to 1500 people with a typo in. I was referring to 'All hands on deck' except I swapped the 'e' for an 'i' in d*ck. Not sure I ever lived that one down 🤪

5. The all-staff we didn’t double-check before we hit send (and could have gotten someone fired)


We’ve all hit send prematurely. It happens!

But sometimes, it can mean a lot of drama.

Urvi Sutrave on LinkedIn:Once my team had to send out an all staff Emailer launching an employee contest. After a lot of back and forth, one team member finally sent out this email only to realize that he had forgotten to delete the trail emails!!  The trail emails consisted some bickering about other teams and it was a total disaster! My Manager was called by the big boss and he took full accountability for this, even though it wasn't his mistake.  It was a learning for all of us to check and double check every email that was sent from the Internal Communications desk!

 

Chip Midnight on LinkedIn: Not quite an all-staff email but ... I write for some music websites. It was late December, just before the Christmas break, I was bored and started a list of my favorite albums of the year so I could post on a website. I decided the best way to keep the list would be to email from my work account to my Gmail account. No problem, right? I hit send, shut down the computer and got in the elevator. One of the leaders in my department got on after me and said, "I've never heard of most of the bands on your list." I was confused. "My list?" "Yeah, the one you just emailed." We hit the ground floor and I quickly hit the button to go back up to my desk. I had turned off the ability to save sent emails so I had no idea who it got sent to. I started getting email replies from people I didn't know. "Cool list, I'll check these out." "I don't know why you sent this to me but please remove me from your list." "Your taste in music is not very good." And on and on the replies came. I told my boss what happened, apologized and he laughed. To this day, I have no idea what mailing list I sent the album list too, I'm just glad it was the holiday season. I imagine most people came back from break and just cleaned out their in-boxes.


Other times, it's just a lil' copy + paste mix-up.

Erin Campbell on Comms-unity: I can’t wait to see the responses on this thread. It wasn’t an all-staff email but I once posted an announcement to the company intranet (which triggers notifications to all Team Members) about our new broadcast show. Instead of linking Team Members to the video, I accidentally inserted an Amazon link to the lipstick I was wearing on the show (because someone asked for the brand/color). To make matters worse, none other than our CEO was the first to notice and I was MORTIFIED. Lesson learned here - make sure the correct link is copied to your clipboard before sending and maybe don’t share what lipstick you wear.

4. The all-staff emails that reveal the magician behind the curtain


We’ve all had to send an important company-wide update from the c-suite.

These kinds of all-staff updates are supposed to come from leaders specifically to instill a sense of unity, to inspire, and to give a sense of cohesion and authority to build trust.

But some (if not most) of the time, we’re actually the ones who write and send them. And more often than we’d like, it backfires.

David McLaughlin on LinkedIn: I once sent the CEOs weekly employee update from my personal mailbox instead of the "message from xxxxx" mailbox. Oops.


3. The all-staff shaming emails to reinforce workplace etiquette


Because we all got into communications so we could be the company mom.

(That’s sarcasm, FYI.)

embarrassing-all-staff-emails-raymond
2. The all-staff that IT will never forgive us for


To say a communicator’s relationship with IT is strained is a wild understatement in many organizations.

And sometimes, it’s even our fault.

Advita Patel on LinkedIn: In one of my very first jobs my boss told me to introduce myself to the team with a quick email. So I wrote a little biog about myself and sent it out. I started to received back lots of messages saying hello, welcome and a couple that had asked why they’d received the email - which puzzled me. A few minutes later IT rang me and said I’d crashed the email system with my email. I’d only gone and sent it to the entire workforce (10000 plus) and what was even worse is that my colleague who’d also started at the same time followed my example, so the system crashed twice! But at least everyone knew who I was so goal achieved 😂

embarrassing-all-staff-emails-laura


1. The notorious all-staff reply all email


And the number one worst, yet most common all-staff email fail is the dreaded reply all.

Vanessa McDaid on LinkedIn: What a fantastic thread! We once had a not so tech savvy board chairman who hit 'reply all' to every single email. Drove us mad but we always knew exactly what he thought!

Karina Tano-Gigante on LinkedIn: I had a colleague reply all to a note from HR about the kids Christmas party stating to please never e-mail her about kid topics as she didn't have and was never planning on having kids because she found them super annoying.

Laniece Williams on LinkedIn: I created a weekly email titled #FinallyFriday. It was a  way to make our Teammates aware of the various events,  media hits, etc happening across the various locations. It always includes an opener that references something happening in pop culture (National Ice Cream Day, pro sports happenings, and so forth). Well, this one particular edition referenced the fact that NFL season was set to begin that upcoming Sunday. One of our Teammates hit the reply all and went on a diatribe about the NFL not supporting the US (this was during Kapernick). Another Teammate responded, again using the reply all, to berate the Teammate and it started a minor email war. It was three emails in before we realized what happened (I was at lunch) and I had IT disable the distribution group. From there we decided to set up a new distribution list that only select people could send to but still included everyone in the company. So even if you hit reply all, it only goes to me and two other people.

 

Betsey Jorgensen on LinkedIn: I once had an employee accidentally reply all (instead of forward) to a company-wide email with some negative commentary about another employee. THANKFULLY I'd set up restricted permissions on our Google Groups so it only went to the group admins.

 

Sheri Morgan on LinkedIn: When someone sends a company wide email and people hit reply all with their random and nonsense replies - and you can't make it stop!

Keith Riley on Twitter: I replied all on an all company email. Complained about how tacky the engagement events were. I had about 300 emails agreeing and the same again telling me I’m out of order.Britney Burns Robbins on LinkedIn: I sent an email to roughly 10,000 employees and somehow the settings had read receipts requested. So for weeks, I received emails to the company inbox every time someone opened the email. THOUSANDS! 😬

How to avoid the drama and stop sending all-staff emails


Most of these problems could have been avoided or would have at least been less painful if our friends had control over their employee distribution lists and didn’t have to send to all staff.

And though we can try and learn from each other’s mistakes, having the right tools to send employee emails does help.

Bananatag can help you take control of your distribution lists, create easy-to-update dynamic segments with the click of a button, and help you avoid some of these horrific all-staff email blunders.

To find out more about Custom Distribution Lists, employee email segmentation best practices, and to get an inside peek at our tool and new features, click the link below to book a demo.

Or if you’d rather just join in the schadenfreude or share your bad all-staff email story, why not join Comms-unity, our community with 1000+ communication professionals from around the world? Click here to apply.