The issue of trust has increasingly attracted attention in the business ethics literature. Our aim is to contribute further to this literature by examining how the use of the carbon copy (cc) function in email communication influences felt trust. We develop the argument that the use of cc enhances transparency—representing an important characteristic of workplace ethics—and hence promotes trust. We further argue that a downside of the cc option may be that it can also be experienced as a control mechanism, which may therefore negatively affect trust. The results of our first study showed that the use of cc indeed enhances perceived transparency, but at the same time also leads to the experience of increased control. Building upon this insight, the findings of five subsequent studies consistently revealed that the use of cc negatively influences felt trust. More precisely, employees felt trusted the least when the supervisor was always included in cc (Studies 2 and 3). This effect on felt trust also negatively influenced how trustworthy the organizational climate was perceived (Study 4). We further replicated these results in two field surveys, which showed that the negative effect of cc on felt trust lowered perceptions of psychological safety (Study 5) and contributed to a culture of fear (Study 6). Taken together, our findings suggest that when transparency in email communications is experienced as a control mechanism, its use is perceived as unethical, rather than as ethical. Implications and recommendations for future business ethics research are discussed.

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Keywords Business ethics, Carbon copy, Control, Email communication, Felt trust, Transparency
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Journal Journal of Business Ethics
Haesevoets, T, de Cremer, D, De Schutter, L. (Leander), McGuire, J. (Jack), Yang, Y. (Yu), Jian, X. (Xie), & van Hiel, A. (2019). Transparency and Control in Email Communication: The More the Supervisor is Put in cc the Less Trust is Felt. Journal of Business Ethics. doi:10.1007/s10551-019-04220-w