One Bad, “Policy Change” Email Can Kill Company Culture

We’ve all received a work email that made us cringe – the ones that sound formal and threatening or vaguely like a punishment for something we’re pretty sure someone else did. They often have titles like “New Travel Policy” or “Changes to Benefits Package” or even “Office Happiness Update.” These subject lines sounds innocent enough, but in the modern professional environment, we’ve all developed a healthy sense of skepticism.

(via Today is a Good Day)

As CEO, it’s my job (and if you’re the CEO, it should be yours) to stop these messages in their tracks and make sure that either A) the content of the message is purely positive and thus, the skepticism will be met with sighs of relief upon reading or B) if it’s actually bad news, it’s framed properly without the bullshit.

For example, let’s say Company X has been having trouble with abuse of work-from-home privileges. Managers are finding that more and more people are getting less accomplished and a primary suspect is a lack of coming into the office*. The problem is circulated at the executive team meeting and a decision is made to change the work-from-home policy to provide greater analytics and visibility. An email is sent to the team that looks like this:

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Subject: New Work-From-Home Policy

Hi Everyone,

Starting next week, we’re making a change in policy around time working out of the office. Employees wishing to work from home must send an explanatory writeup to their manager. It will be at managers’ discretion whether these requests will be accepted.

If you have feedback, please email [email protected]

Thanks very much,


It’s not the worst corporate email in the world, and 90% of organizations would let this sort of message go through.

If I ever do that, someone kick me in the shin, because that email isn’t a slippery slope, it’s a fall off the edge of a cliff that will lead to an unacceptable work environment.

Here’s the message that should be sent:

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Subject: Productivity & Working Out of Office

Hi Everyone,

Over the last month, several managers have been concerned about our ability to get collaboration-dependent projects completed. We need a way to better track in-office vs. out-of-office work to help prevent frustration and lost productivity. If you’re planning to work from home or from the road, please email your manager letting them know. If the time doesn’t work, they might ask you to come in.

I know many of you are putting in a ton of effort and a lot of hours, and that this extra layer of communication may be a pain. I’m sorry for that. But, as we’ve learned with all sorts of things growing this company, we can’t improve what we don’t measure, so please help us out and, hopefully, we can make things better for everyone (more work-from-wherever time for those who need it, more in-office collaboration so communication delays don’t hold you back, etc).

If you’ve got any feedback, ideas or feel that we’re being knuckleheads and missing the real problem, please talk to your manager and/or me!

Thanks gang,


That’s an email I’d consider incredibly carefully (and would probably spend more time on then I did in this blog post). I’d send it to my executive team for review and I’d probably send it to 2 or 3 random employees who have a great sense for company culture, asking if I’m framing it correctly and if they have any fixes before hitting send.

The “what” doesn’t change between these two emails, but there are key elements missing from the top vs. bottom email. The first is that changing policies without explanation sucks and the top email does just that. It makes people believe you don’t trust them, and over time, it builds up speculation and distrust of motives. Second, the top email sounds like it could have been sent by a sophisticated machine. The bottom email is obviously from a human being – me.

If you’re at a company where these sorts of communications aren’t considered strategically, you might try talking to your managers/execs about it. I bet that more than 50% of the time, there’s a good reason and good motivation underneath those overly-corporate, soul-destroying emails. Convincing them that being more open about the reasons and more considerate in the presentation will have a positive impact probably won’t take much work.

And if you’re the CEO – there’s nothing more important to own than how the tough stuff is communicated to your team, even something as “minor” as requesting that folks give their managers & teammates the heads-up when they’ll be working from home (and on what). The shitty truth is that you can get 9 of these emails absolutely right and if the 10th one sounds like the top message, you’re screwed. Just like positive vs. negative experiences in every other aspect of life, people will forget about all the good stuff very quickly and focus on the bad as if it’s all that’s ever existed. No, it’s not fair, but it’s human nature. Ever eaten at a restaurant 9 times, received bad service once and never been back?

*For any Mozzers reading this – NO – this is not code for a problem we actually have. In fact, I’d encourage everyone to work from home as much as makes sense for you. I, personally, am way more productive on actual projects at home than I am at work and the office is mostly a place where I meet with people, take calls, film videos, give webinars, all that stuff. This really is a hypothetical, promise 🙂

p.s. Clearly that second email still needs work. My point with this post is not to say it’s perfect, but merely that effort (lots of it) needs to be put in when you’re sending these out.

p.p.s. Sorry it took me so long to read the comments. I think I’ve discovered a key point of contention – the perspective about what “work from home abuse” means. In this post, I DO NOT mean to say that the company has team members who are slacking off/not doing their work. If that’s the case, working from home isn’t the problem. I’m assuming that “work from home abuse” means too many people are working individually and intra/cross-team communication is suffering, which is why productivity’s down. If you assume the former scenario, none of these emails and nothing in this blog post makes any sense at all.