Email Etiquette at Work

Mind your manners online.

Email—for some, it’s the bane of our existence, and, for others, it’s an easy, quick form of communication. Regardless of which camp you fall into, email is likely an integral part of your work environment. Are you using it properly?

Manners Matter

Email is quick, easy, and almost effortless. We all send and receive countless emails throughout the day as we go about the business of getting things done. However, the more we use this tool, the more casual we tend to become—and sooner or later we forget that despite its ease and efficiency, email is still professional correspondence and should be treated as such. Gone are the days of well-crafted professional memos and letters. With email, we can fire at will whenever the need arises. This is not always a good thing.

If you want to keep your professional correspondence professional and maintain the respect of your colleagues, there are a few simple email guidelines you may want to keep in mind.

Use a greeting. Emails that launch right into the heart of the matter seem impolite and impatient. It doesn’t matter how well you know your coworkers or how pressed you are for time—just take the time to use a simple greeting such as “hi” or “hello.”

Use an appropriate subject line. Everyone is busy. When you use a subject line that accurately reflects the nature of the message, you’re doing both yourself and your colleague a favor because your message will receive the attention it deserves in the timeframe that’s appropriate. If it’s not urgent, your colleague will be able to discern whether it can wait.

Use flags sparingly. Your subject line should speak for itself. If you’re working on a time-sensitive project with a colleague, they’re likely aware of the level of urgency. Use the “high-priority” flag sparingly. Employees who flag every email as important run the risk of sounding like the boy who cried wolf.

Be concise. This is work, not a cocktail party. Skip the superfluous content and get to the point. Your colleague will breathe a sigh of relief, as she likely has countless projects and emails awaiting her attention.

Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It’s easy to get lazy with email. Don’t. There is a certain level of decorum and standards that should be maintained in the work environment. Lazy, improper usage reflects poorly on you. Take the time to do it right.

Be professional. We all use email both personally and professionally—be careful to maintain a boundary between the two. This means:

  • No emoticons or abbreviations. Save the smiley faces and the LOLs for your girlfriends. If you want to garner the respect of your colleagues, keep professional email professional.
  • No shouting. Emails in all-caps are obnoxious and rude. Let your words speak for themselves. Just as you wouldn’t barge into a coworker’s office and shout, nor should you scream via email.
  • No forwards. This is work, not the playground. Avoid forwarding jokes and other frivolous emails to your coworkers. It wastes time and annoys people.
  • No personal emails at work. You have a personal email account—use it. Your work email account is for emails related to work. Remember, this email is permanent—and can often be retrieved from databases and servers long after you’ve deleted it. Save yourself the headache and maintain a boundary between personal and professional email.

Provide timely responses. People use email for a reason—because they need your attention to a matter. Don’t let emails stack up in your inbox without some sort of action. If you don’t have time to get to an email, at least send a response letting your colleague know that you received her email and will take time to respond in full later.

Be a grown-up. Email is not a forum for resolving conflict. If you’re feeling angry or emotionally charged, resist the urge to fire off an email. Go for a walk or take a deep breath and then find a healthy way to address the issue that doesn’t involve a long stream of snarky emails. And remember, email is completely devoid of tone—so sarcasm and irony often come off sounding combative.

Use email only when necessary. Finally, email is not the only form of communication at work. It’s easy and allows us to be detached and continue about our day—but it’s not always the best form of communication. Avoid cluttering the inboxes of your coworkers with an endless stream of emails. If an issue can be resolved with a quick conversation, take the time to walk down to your coworker’s office rather than firing off an email.