Email Etiquette in the Modern Workplace

Living and working in a knowledge economy means that we are all using written communications daily to get our jobs done. We sit down at our desks first thing in the morning and the first thing we do is to check our emails.  A staggering estimated 306.4 billion emails were sent and received per day in 2020 and statistics predict that by 2025, this number will reach 376.4 billion (Statista, 2021). Many of us are communicating by email all day long, yet how many of us stop and think about the quality of our communications? Do you get annoyed when you received a poorly constructed email, one that is riddled with typos or an email that has abbreviations written in what I call ‘text speak’?  If asked most of us will have an opinion on what a good or bad email looks like, or we may be able to explain our pet peeves when we receive a poorly constructed email; I know I do!  I also know that I am guilty of sending hastily put-together responses from time to time, later regretting that I wasn’t as careful as I could have been and worrying that I have made a poor impression.  Think of a tube of toothpaste; once the toothpaste is squeezed from the tube it can’t be put back in no matter how hard you try! It’s the same with shoddy emails; once they’re sent, they’re gone never to be retrieved no matter how much you wish you could take them back. So here are my top tips for keeping your email communications strictly professional.

Customer Centricity

Firstly, it is important to appreciate customer-centric cultures in the modern economy where relationships are the primary focus.  In the past, there was less emphasis on what the customer wanted from the organisation and more emphasis on what the organisation wanted from the customer or client. This subtle shift means that relationships matter immensely in our day-to-day communications including emails. Think about your opening greeting – it should be warm and friendly and of course appropriate to the target audience and convey the purpose of the email.  A simple thank you for reaching out is both formal and friendly.  An expression of gratitude or wishing someone well might make someone’s day and will serve to build great customer-centric relationships. I love when I receive a personal greeting in an email and even better if the email closing wishes me a nice day or wishes me a relaxed weekend. Change your emailing habits and you may well change the way your customers think about you even ones you have never met!

Remember That Clear Thinking = Clear Writing

It is as important to decide how you will say something as it is to decide what to say.  This is especially true if you are feeling uptight or stressed.  Just as you would think about the words you speak it is also important to think clearly about the words you write.  Being good at email communication is a skill worth developing as it pays back in dividends.  If you are working in sales for instance; an email may be the first point of contact with a new customer.  If you are working in a hybrid team email may be the main point of contact between you and your colleagues and therefore is vital to developing relationships. Before you write the email ask yourself:

  • Why am I sending this communication?
  • Will the communication achieve its intended purpose?
  • Am I strengthening my work/customer relationships or harming them?

Personalise Your Emails

According to emails with a personalised subject line are 50% more likely to be opened – this information is based on marketing emails, but it is also true for general email communication. It takes a couple of seconds to personalise a subject line yet daily I receive emails that are forwarded from a past email thread and the subject line has nothing to do with the current conversation. Try to avoid generic emails with ‘Dear all’ or ‘All’ in emails to save time. Generalising emails in this way just serves to offend your target audience and in my opinion, an opportunity to impress is lost using this approach.

Avoid Loaded Words

You will know your words are loaded because it will seem to the target audience that you are attempting to swat a fly with a mallet. Loaded words are passive-aggressive; yes, they are only words, but they are written to offend, insult, demean or express frustration or even anger.  Loaded words are often CAPITALISED or written in bold red font. Over formalising your emails for example “it has been brought to my attention” or starting a sentence with ‘Obviously’ are guaranteed to create the wrong impression and may even trigger a thread of unwarranted email communications.

Not too Short & not too Long!

It is much more likely that a receiver will read the entirety of a short email whilst it is almost guaranteed that long-drawn-out emails will either not be fully read or get skimmed over. I have put this to the test where I’ve added a call to action (CTA) at the end of a long-winded email and I was not surprised by the low rate of response to my CTA. I could give numerical data here and recommend the number of words in a perfect email but whatever number I write down won’t help you to write the perfect email. The one piece of advice I can give is that you should communicate key messages at the beginning of your email; you are much more likely to get a reply.  My advice is to write your email using the above advice and then edit and cut out any unnecessary words or phrases.  You will get better at this with practice and soon you will be writing focused, succinct, and appropriately worded emails. It is also useful to include hyperlinks; this is a great way to keep your emails short.  

Install Grammarly on your Desktop

Grammarly is a free application that ensures that all your written communication (not just emails) is checked in real-time.  Grammarly isn’t fully foolproof, but it is more accurate than the spellcheck in MS word and similar applications. From my experience, I rely on it for accuracy about 95% of the time.  For very important editing I use the spoken text in my MS Word review options.  This reads your words back to you and generally to about 99% accuracy picks up the nuances that Grammarly has missed. You might be thinking that this seems like a huge amount of effort just to write an email; once you make it a habit it doesn’t take that much time and the benefits far outweigh the small amount of time you dedicate to perfecting your email communications.

Pay Attention to your Out of Office Messages

If I have a pet peeve it’s receiving an out-of-office reply that doesn’t tell me when the sender plans to return.  It’s a simple one to rectify and I know that most of us when we are triggering our out-of-office messages already have one foot out the door.  It’s usually the last thing we do before we power down our desktops. But think of all those people that will receive your message.  Personalise this message, ensure that there are no spelling errors, use sentence cases and include your return to office date. Even better to include contact details for someone who will respond in your absence if this is possible. 

Email may not Always be the best way to Resolve a Problem

My final piece of advice is as important if not more important than all the above. If you find yourself in an email thread and things are getting heated and you may even notice that others have been cc’d in the thread ‘PICK UP THE PHONE’. Email communication is amazing, it is instant, and efficient and is also a good way of maintaining time, and date stamped records.  Emails should never be used to avoid having a difficult conversation or as a method to score points or avoid accountability.  If you notice your email communication is not resolving an issue you should schedule a phone or Zoom call. You will do yourself and the person at the other end a great favour and save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.

If you would like to learn more about our workplace communications workshops you can visit our website at or if you would like to schedule a consultation please feel free to contact me on 086 3897409. 

Janet Tumulty

24th June 2022