Busy professionals are inundated with daily emails. They come from our bosses, colleagues, friends, family, and everything from subscriptions to the email equivalent of cold-calls with sales pitches we don’t need.
But what can make the process ever-the-more frustrating is when certain standards of email etiquette are breached. They are varied in their severity, and can evoke everything from an eye roll to, if we’re not careful, losing an important client or receiving a termination letter.
Though it may seem innocent when you’re emailing your friend about your newest fantasy draft pick, or emailing your spouse a funny Tik Tok video you discovered, in the workplace, how you carry yourself in email can have a drastic and direct impact on your professional life.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled some of the more important email etiquette rules in the workplace to ensure you stay on the right track.
1. Send Emails From Your Professional Email
This might be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. You could have a strong working relationship with someone, and may even remember their email address by heart at this point. But what can become an issue is when you send (hopefully on accident) an email from your personal email address.
First, this will come off as unprofessional to the recipient. You’re supposed to be representing your company, your brand. But now they get an email from DaveMakesGarbageWaffles@gmail.com and that email will go to the trash, as well as any important information inside.
You will appear as someone who doesn’t care enough about their professional image to ensure you’re emailing from the appropriate email address.
Get the picture?
Second, if somehow your email goes unnoticed, which is unlikely if it’s sent from an email with the words “garbage waffles” in it, when you get into the office the next day you might not be able to find that email you sent…because it was from the wrong email address. Then comes the unnecessary, wasted time spent looking for something that should have been in your work email in the first place.
And of course vice versa as well. It is recommended that personal emails are kept to personal email addresses and work emails are kept to work email addresses whenever possible.
2. Know Who You’re Communicating With
Again, a fairly obvious rule, but make sure you know who it is you’re emailing.
Let’s start with the simplest part of this rule. Spell the person’s name correctly! Nothing screams “I don’t care about you” like misspelling someone’s name. This is even more important when the recipient’s name is either in their email address itself, or in their signature/closing. Take the extra second and make sure you spelled their name correctly. If their name is less common or more complicated than the average name, they’ll appreciate you taking the time to get it right.
You also don’t want to send an email only to have the reply say “I think you meant this for someone else.” At best, if it’s a time-sensitive email, that just puts even more pressure on the recipient, as well as yourself, to finalize the details. At worst…well…I think you get the point.
Pro-Tip: Never badmouth someone via email. This is doubly true when it’s your work email. Emails are forever.
3. Add the Email Address Last
In a similar vein to the previous rule, but more of a practical application, add the email address last. I know I’ve been guilty of this once or twice where I accidentally sent an email before I finished writing it. Luckily, you can use the “undo” button if that happens. But in the event you click somewhere else or don’t get to “undo” in time, you have to explain why the recipient received half of an email, apologize, and tell them you’ll be sending another one soon.
Avoid that by waiting until you’ve completely finished the email and it’s actually ready to be sent. Your scattered-brain self will thank you!
4. Cross Your T’s and Dot Your I’s…Proofread
Speaking of waiting until an email is completely finished before sending it, make sure you proofread! And proofread slowly. There are so many silly mistakes people make in email. Spelling receive as recieve, or using the wrong form of its and it’s. Though these seem like minor issues, over time your recipient will notice a trend. A bad one. You don’t want a client (or your boss) thinking you’re incompetent or incapable of producing quality work because you failed to be cognizant in emails.
So take a minute or two to read through your email and dot the i’s and cross those t’s. In the end, your professional reputation is on the line, and you want everyone to look at you as an authority figure.
In some situations, use the “Read Aloud” feature in Outlook or Google and just close your eyes and listen to ensure the tone and words are what you intended them to be.
5. Be Professional, Limit Emojis
With modern texting came an explosion of emojis, and people love them. They can add a special flare to a conversation, or really amp up the emotion. But there’s a time and place for emojis, and they aren’t in your professional correspondence.
Though the trend of incorporating emojis in professional email is being seen as more acceptable as younger generations join the workforce, it simultaneously takes an email from more professional to more personal. Are you sure the recipient feels the same about your working relationship? Do you want to risk them viewing you as unprofessional?
It’s better to be safe than sorry in this situation. Until you’re specifically told “we use emojis in our emails” from your superior, just avoid them. It’s never a bad thing to err on the side of being more professional than less when it comes to your work.
6. Use Specific Subject Lines
We’re inundated with emails every day. Frequently, a lot of these emails go straight to the garbage, or get put in the “I’ll come back to this later” category. Other times you just have so many emails it’s hard to keep track.
So even if you’re an email superstar and have achieved “Inbox Zen” from your disciplined practice, your recipient may not be on the same level as you. If there’s something pressing, you need to let them know. But an email subject line that says “Friday’s Budget Meeting” may not get clicked as quickly as “Urgent: Friday’s Budget Meeting” and could result in losing precious time if preparations are needed before Friday.
Therefore, you want to be specific in your email subject. But don’t overdo it. “Urgent: Friday’s Budget Meeting Where We Will Discuss All The Changes We’re Making To How We Approach Our Project Management Software” is overwhelming. Plus, that’s what the body of the email is for. If you need to add specifics, do it, but be mindful. “Urgent: Friday’s Budget Meeting, Project Management Software” is more than enough and lets everyone know exactly what the email is about.
Be specific, but make sure you’re not overwhelming at the same time. Oh, and never leave the subject line blank (cringe….).
Pro Tip: In a team environment, you could also adopt a common set of acronyms to prioritize and organize responses, such as:
- AR = Action Required | NAR: No Action Required
- RR = Response Requested | NRN = No Response Needed
- To: Your attentions is specifically required | cc: I am just keeping you in the loop
7. AVOID USING ALL CAPS
There’s no need to shout, and that’s precisely what all-caps implies. We don’t need to be assaulted first thing in the morning with an email subject line that says “WILL YOU BE IN TODAY when “Will You Be In Today” sounds significantly less imposing.
You also don’t want to create unnecessary urgency. All-caps often screams (pun intended) that something is super important and needs to be addressed right now otherwise I wouldn’t have put this in all-caps to get your attention. But if they open the email and it says something like “wanted to see how things were going with the report. No rush. Let me know if you need anything,” you’ve immediately lost your authority the next time you send an email that actually requires immediate attention.
Don’t be the boy who cried email importance. (Not to mention, all caps is so much harder to read).
8. Use Standard Fonts
This isn’t a personal diary, a graphic design project, or some other stylized content. This is email – professional email. Use the standard fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. There’s no need to be fancy, and you don’t want to strain someone’s eyes with an elaborate, medieval font that looks cool but is impractical.
This is another instance where you’ll lose some authority because the recipient may think you don’t have a good sense of judgment. At that point you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get your reputation back to where it was before you sent that email with Comic Sans or Pacifico.
9. Respond Promptly
There’s nothing more frustrating than needing a quick response, only to wait three or four days for an email that takes a few minutes. Therefore, employ a bit of empathy. You know you don’t want to wait to hear back on your emails, so don’t make others wait either. A good rule of thumb is to respond within 24 hours when possible. That doesn’t mean you have to check your email every second (in fact, you should incorporate some time-saving email strategies to ensure you don’t), but at the same time don’t deliberately wait to respond to an email without just cause. At the very least, acknowledge receipt of it and that you’ll get back to them with a more specific timeframe.
Remember, it’s not only your reputation on the line, it’s your company’s reputation as well. You’re an extension of the company image. It’s not a good look to have your boss call you into their office to discuss why your emails are making clients upset or feel unimportant.
10. Be Cognizant of Reply All, CC/BCC, and Forward
Not everyone needs to be included in emails. Moreover, not everyone needs to be replied to. Sometimes people are CC’d to emails just so there’s a record of it. So use your best judgment. Whenever someone does not need to be copied, save them one more email in their inbox.
By keeping this in mind, you’ll reduce the email clutter of everyone else’s inbox, and earn some respect along the way for being mindful and judicious with your professionalism. That quality alone will help you stand out amongst the ranks. At minimum, it’ll make you someone people want to continue working with. You want that too, right?
11. Assume Everyone Will Read It
Finally, having come from a legal background, you won’t believe the emails I have ready that were turned over in discovery. Emails between people who are not even a party to the lawsuit. Who says working in law isn’t fun? Whatever you put in writing could be shared publicly. Whether as innocent as someone forwarding your email when you weren’t expecting that they would do that, to as public as something like an Enron scandal and every email in the company was being read (ok, not every email, but a boatload of emails were read.)
Whenever you’re communicating, especially in a professional setting, assume that your email can and might be read by more people than just the person(s) you sent it to. This will help you maintain that professionalism as well as keep things simple and succinct.
Now that you have these strategies, make sure you implement them! This guide is useless without the most important factor of all: your dedication to it. The more you work on your email etiquette in the workplace, the more you’ll find it becoming second nature. In time, as you grow within your company or find other ways to elevate, you’ll be in a great place to mentor those below you, and help them achieve the same level of professionalism you yourself have achieved.
But there’s still so much more to learn and discuss. You may even be wondering “how can I take this to the next level?” or “these tips are great, but I just don’t know how to manage my overwhelming inbox. How do I tackle that first?”
Luckily I have the solution for you called the ARTT™ Email Productivity Course and have created a free webinar to help you learn more about it. This complimentary 45-minute webinar will help you learn how to feel in control of your inbox, be more responsive to important collaborators, and reduce your anxiety and stress. Tame the Email Beast….ARTT fully demonstrates time-saving techniques within Outlook primarily; however, the concept is platform-agnostic. It is about teaching your human habits connected to technology (whether Outlook, Gmail, or AOL Mail…ok, nobody uses AOL Mail anymore, right?).
Register for your favorite date today and I look forward to having you at the program.