Email etiquette: 10 golden rules for sending work emails
Emoji or no emoji? To sign on with a ‘Dear’ or a ‘Hi’, or nothing at all? What about whether to use ‘Yours sincerely’, or a ‘Cheers’?
Emails can be hard. A well-crafted email can make the difference between a successful working relationship or potential confusion, insult or conflict – all of which can be heightened if your employees are constantly working remotely.
The appropriate email communication can vary depending on multiple factors including what industry you work in, if you are writing to a superior or a peer, if you are writing to one or several recipients, and if you are writing across cultures.
However, there are some basic dos and don’ts that HR and People teams can use to guide employees.
1. Include a clear subject matter, and don’t shout
Always include a subject matter that succinctly captures what your email is about. If your email is urgent or requires immediate response, include this in the subject line, but do this sparingly. If your email isn’t urgent, then you will only annoy people by crying wolf.
Don’t capitalize all your letters, no matter how urgent your email is, as you will look aggressive – it’s like SHOUTING OVER EMAIL.
2. Always use an appropriate greeting
Salutations are hotly debated. Many argue that you should always use a formal greeting. This depends on the recipient. If you are writing to a close colleague or your team, an informal ‘Hi’ will likely be sufficient.
If you are writing in a chain of emails where the context has already been established in a prior email or even by phone, then it’s fine to write with no greeting.
If you are writing to someone you don’t know so well, then always add a formal salutation and an introduction.
3. Only use shorthand if you know your recipients
If you are writing to your own team about a project that you have been discussing, then you can write short, instructive emails with a list of bullet points. This means they can quickly understand the task and it’s far easier to read on a smartphone.
However, sending a note like this to people you don’t know can make you appear blunt, rude and even a bully. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the recipient, then you need to build one up first before writing shorthand emails.
Equally, don’t write emails that are superfluous, as this will just bore the recipient.
4. Be wary of using humor or colloquialism across cultures
Be aware that funny sayings or colloquialisms may be completely misconstrued by your colleagues in overseas offices. At worst, you could insult them, at best; you can make them feel confused or left out.
5. Consider the purpose of your email
Always state if your email needs an action and by when. Open-ended emails can be confusing. Having an action or even letting the recipient know that no further action is required is helpful.
Whatever you do, before you click send, visualize what you want to achieve and modify your language as such.
6. Think before you smile
Emojis have crept into everyday use. With the increase of email and text communication, it’s impossible to see facial expressions so people add smiley faces to soften their emails. However, a 2017 study showed that this could make the sender appear incompetent.
It depends on the norm in your organization and sector but be mindful of when and to who you’re sending emojis to. If you’re sending them to people you know well, and you know will understand them, then that is fine. If not, then consider if they’re really needed.
7. Don’t hit reply all or CC everyone
Have you checked that you’re only communicating to the people you need to communicate to? It can be annoying to be copied into every email or to see every response in a chain if it is not relevant to your recipient.
8. Reply in a timely fashion
Always reply within 24 hours, even if it is to acknowledge an email and explain that you will revert with an appropriate response within a defined timescale. People don’t like to be ignored!
9. Think about where your email could end up
Never use inappropriate language in a work email. The reality is that your email will remain on the server long after you have deleted it.
The issue may be resolved but your email will still be in existence and you would not want to cause offence or get into trouble for something you foolishly wrote without much thought.
10. Always spell check
Sending emails with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can be infuriating for colleagues. They could imply that you’re too lazy to use the spell checker before you click send. Take the time to re-read your emails, make sure they make sense and have the right tone before you send them.
It’s all about context
Ultimately, there are so many ways to write an email and each employee has a different and unique style.
It all boils down to context. Who are your employees writing to? How well do they know the recipient? Do they know them in person or just virtually? How will the email be interpreted? And what are they trying to achieve through the communication?
HR and People teams can guide employees in the different internal communication styles and set the tone for the organization – both by setting an example, but also through things like inductions, and in training for managers.
Make sure your employees know the dos and don’ts of internal email communication and if you’re not sure if they do, ask them. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
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