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Does Not Compute: How To Survive A Reply-All Email Chain

The presidential election is over, and we wait nervously to see what President-elect Trump will do. In the meantime, let's start another "reply-all" email chain!

While we talk about draining the swamp here in Washington DC, the employees of Britain's National Health System have been swimming in a "reply-all" email chain! A test email was apparently sent by mistake to more than one million NHS employees, and the email chain has taken on a life of its own.

Business Insider reports that, at last count, at least 120 replies had been made to the "reply-all" thread, which adds up to -- get this! -- 140 million useless emails sent in reply between NHS employees. Yikes. NHS employees have a fever, and that fever is for more delete buttons!

Enough Already!
Many of us have been there, watching a "reply-all" email thread devolve into an increasingly bitter (and occasionally very funny) internal company exchange that goes on and on, and typically goes something like this:

Employee A:
Thanks for the email, HR. Regards, Dave
Employee B: Ditto. Thx for the info.
Employee C: Oops, this is Dave again. I would like to recall my last email. I hit "reply-all" by mistake. Sorry, guys!
Employee D: Oh no, it's a company-wide email. There's more than 10,000 employees included on this email. DO. NOT. REPLY!!!
Employee F: Bob from accounts payable in Palo Alto here. Just want to wish everyone happy holidays!
Employee G: Stop it, Bob! OMG! (PS: happy holidays to you, too.:)
Employee H: Could someone explain what the original message was about? It's quickly getting buried deep in the thread. TL;DR. Thx.
Employee I: I think it had something to do with the open enrollment period? Happy holidays, Bob!
Employee J: Ugh, stop responding to this reply-all thread! I'm busy and don't have time for this!
Employee K: BTW, I'm selling Girl Scout cookies. Sign up at my desk in logistics (Cincinnati office) if you want some!
Employee L: Hey, Dave. I think I remember you. Last year's corporate retreat in Hotlanta ring a bell? Fruit salad, yummy yummy!
Employee M: Sally from international sales here. Houston office. So nice to meet everyone!
Employee N: This thread isn't for sales networking, Sally. Somebody hit "reply-all" by mistake. Everyone needs to stop replying to this thread. Please?
Employee O: I'm conducting a corporate organic snack survey, please reply if you want to participate and I'll send info. Thx.
Employee P: Oh, dear god, no. At least we're not wasting any trees here. Hi, Bob! Hope all is well!
Employee Q: A survey shout out for keeping the organic bean dip. Lose the organic carrot sticks, tho. That's all I got. ~Rick in Seattle Office
Employee R: This email chain is spiraling out of control. I've forwarded it to the IT dept. Enough already!
Employee S: Ditto. I just forwarded it to IT, too. Stop it, people!
Employee T: This is the IT Department. DO NOT forward this "reply-all" thread to us, or respond to it. We're working on it.
Employee U: Great, I think IT is mad at us now. Happy holidays?
Employee V: This is so annoying! Could somebody please remove me from this email list, ASAP?
Employee X: Ha-ha! This whole thing is too funny. Love it! Happy holidays, Bob!
Employee Y: This is Sally from Houston again. I didn't mean to offend anyone. My apologies. PS: Let me know if you have any sales leads.
Employee Z: Who is Bob? It's okay, Sally. We all make mistakes. BTW, does anyone have an update on IT closing this thread?***

And on and on we go. I've been on threads that lasted for days. The key here, of course, is not to reply at all. Ever. There is strength in numbers. In this case, in the number of employees who are not adding to the "reply-all" thread! Do not ask extraneous questions, do not ask to be taken off the list, and do not use the email chain to bring up entirely new topics (surveys, meetings, sales pitches, etc). You're only adding additional, useless messages to the chain.

Above all, never lose your temper toward colleagues who reply to a "reply-all" email chain. Using a "reply-all" email chain to "yell" at distant colleagues isn't polite, and in the end it simply makes you seem like somebody they wouldn't want to know in person.

For better and for worse, employee branding extends into the realm of the "reply-all" email chain. Message: this too shall pass. And happy holidays.

*** It goes without saying that any similarities to real-life corporate reply-all email chains is purely coincidental.


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