Why You Should Avoid The Universal F*ck-Up Email

A team of colleagues sit around a desk with their laptops having a meeting. There are sticky notes on the wall.

Why You Should Avoid The Universal F*ck-Up Email

Emails are well-known to be a burden on our productivity, in 2017 New York University professor Adam Alter discovered that on average we check our emails 6 seconds after they arrive. Inbox always open is a common productivity problem.

The truth is we all know we’ve got some bad habits when it comes to watching our emails, yet there’s one email habit, in particular, that is often overlooked in the workplace, but is more damaging to an organisation’s culture and morale than the consistent email eagle-eyes.

I like to call this habit ‘the universal f*ck-up email’. It’s one of those round-robin emails everyone in the organisation receives when one individual has messed something up.

Here’s an example.


Dear All,

It has come to our attention that we’re not processing sales as per the company process, therefore can we all remember that an issue such as this costs the company xxx. I have re-attached the process to remind you all of how it should be implemented.

Kind Regards,


You know the type, and I’m sure when you’ve received one, you’ve felt as enraged and belittled as every other person who’s inbox it’s landed in. Perhaps you’ve even second-guessed your own work?

The fact is, this passive-aggressive approach to one person’s f*ck-up creates animosity in the entire culture, something that festers and grows into toxic conversations and poor employee engagement.

If you think you’ve been guilty of sending such an email to your team, here are a few reasons why need to rethink your f*ck-up strategy.

A graphic illustration of an email message.

Treat People As Individuals

Whether it’s a fear of HR or a fear of challenging someone’s work directly, the fact is you have to treat people as individuals. And sending such a universal email says to the team that they are merely cogs in a wheel and not valued individuals.

If one individual has made an error, they are the ones who should be brought up on it, to improve their understanding of the process and ensure they are aware of what has happened.

If they know they messed up, they’re going to feel awful that it has been announced to the entire company through an email and that they are now also responsible for the animosity that it has caused in the environment.

People may already know who messed-up, so sending out this email may make things even more awkward for the individual and cause unnecessary stress about their abilities.

If they don’t know they messed-up they’re going to be none the wiser from this universal email, and most likely continue the error of their ways because they’re unaware they made the mistake in the first place. You cannot learn from a mistake if you’re not shown the error of your ways.

A graphic illustration of an email message, it is in orange, white and purple.

Address Issues Directly

Any errors or issues in the workplace should not be left to fester for long periods of time, or be addressed in a universal manner where key employees can feel like they’re good work is being personally attacked. Even if you don’t mean to, everyone who receives that email will feel that they have done something wrong, or that they are somehow to blame for the error.

Issues should be addressed directly with the individual who has made the error, as there may be bigger underlying issues that have influenced this mistake. For example, they could be struggling with a personal issue at home, mental ill health, or they may require more training than what has been provided by the company.

When you send a round-robin email, you’re conducting lazy leadership. Avoiding real issues and undermining your entire team in the process.

Making people feel angered and frustrated with this act will do nothing for productivity levels or engagement, as many employees will simply feel that the real issue isn’t being handled.

A graphic illustration of an email message.

Processes Could Be The Problem

A universal f*ck-up email is the assumption that the people are to blame and not the process.

The fact is, while human error occurs, poor processes are often more to blame than the people acting upon them. Because an efficient process is flawless in execution.

Before you bring anyone up on an error, the process itself should be looked into to ensure that there are no scary cracks that could be bleeding your company dry of profits and productivity.

Many processes are created in the early days of an organisation, and often struggle to be adapted when the company grows or adapts to new climates. Instead, the original process is ordered to fit around something it was not built for.

By assessing your processes you may find that errors are going to happen because of it being outdated or not fit for purpose.

So before you jump the gun and fire off an email that could potentially annoy your entire organisation, take the opportunity to investigate it fully so that you’re not simply putting a plaster over a much bigger problem.

When you begin to treat people as the individuals they are, you can understand why this error happened in the first place, and begin to support people in making better decisions and ensuring processes are streamlined to be efficient.

There should never be a reason to send the universal f*ck-up email, so let’s bury it in the corporate graveyard.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.