Email Etiquette for Businesses: Say This, Not That

In December 2018, a worker at the Utah Department of Corrections invited colleagues to a potluck and $5 white elephant gift exchange. There was just one problem — she accidentally emailed all Utah government employees.

More than 22,000 people got the invite. As you can imagine, the reply-alls got out of control. People pointed out they received the message in error while others used the reply all function to point out that people shouldn’t reply all. “This is real, and it’s an emergency,” joked Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox on Twitter.

It’s another priceless story for everyone’s favorite email gaffe, the unwarranted reply all. But it’s not alone in the context of things employees need to know about effective communication. Email etiquette for business centers on enhancing clarity and reducing the need for further conversations.

Do’s and Don’ts of Email Etiquette for Businesses

The importance of email communication in the workplace is often self-evident. You probably use it on a daily basis for all kinds of requests and updates. With that in mind, you’ll need to be aware of best practices for the most widely recognized type of digital communication. Make sure you keep the following email etiquette rules in mind.

Do: Keep it Short and Clear

Get to the point as quickly as possible to clarify your message. Otherwise, you’ll quickly test people’s patience, according to Alison Green, who writes the popular Ask a Manager blog.

“Effective emails in the workplace are usually short emails – meaning just a few short paragraphs or a bulleted list if you’re including lots of details,” she said. “They’re also crystal clear about what you’d like the recipient to do (approve something/give input/take action) or whether it’s just an FYI. Bury that info, and your recipients are far less likely to do whatever it is you’re asking of them.”

Don’t beat around the bush. Aim for brevity and simplicity in your subject line and message.

Do: Proofread

Spelling and grammar errors are at best a nuisance in the workplace. At worst, they change the meaning of messages, and you might suffer professionally. You don’t want to become associated with bad writing and sloppiness.

Spell check is a good start, but don’t stop there. Read your email aloud or in your mind to make sure everything sounds right. Also ensure it has the appropriate tone. If it’s a particularly important email, such as a message to an entire department or the company, write it the day before you send it so you can review with fresh eyes. You can also have someone offer a second opinion.

Do: Use Professional Salutations and Signature

Use a formal greeting when writing to someone you don’t know well. An informal “hi” or “hello” is fine for your team or a close colleague, but be careful with greetings like “hey” and “hi folks.” Those can come across as unprofessional email etiquette for business contexts.

A professional email signature is also a good practice. It helps colleagues who don’t know you understand who you are and your role. It’s even more important for customers and people in other organizations. They can learn who you are and have access to valuable information all at once.

Your signature should include your first and last name, job title, company name, telephone number, email address, website and email disclaimer as applicable.

Don’t: Use Humor and Emoticons

Humor is easy to misinterpret in emails. Some people might not get a joke immediately and become confused. Or they could see a joke as out of place or a sign of bitterness.

Email isn’t an effective vehicle for humor. Try humor in instant messages with coworkers you know well, as you can take advantage of its quick, informal nature. Even better, save humor for in-person situations where body language and tone can be conveyed.

The same rules apply to emoticons. You may be tempted to include a smiley face as a way to lighten up an email, but it doesn’t have the same effect as a text message to a friend might. In fact, researchers in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that smiley faces in work-related first impressions failed to increase perceptions of warmth and decreased perceptions of competence.

Don’t: Include Sensitive or Inappropriate Information

Electronic messages leave a trail. It is incredibly easy to forward an email. And long after someone deletes a message, it’s still available on the server.

Don’t take any chances by including information that can get you or someone else in trouble. Instead, discuss the matter on the phone or in person. Aside from the benefit of lacking a paper trail, either of those options will be more effective and efficient.

Don’t: Hit “Reply All” Unless It’s Necessary

Always default to replying to the sender alone. It’s the best way to prevent the classic-yet-common reply-all situation that causes needless emails.

There are times when you should opt for the “reply all” button. Marketing software company HubSpot noted five situations that warrant a reply all:

  1. If your response impacts at least half of all people in the email chain
  2. If other people will be confused by not seeing your response
  3. If the email chain is a small group of people working on the same project
  4. If you think others have the same question you have
  5. If your manager asks everyone for their feedback

These pieces of email etiquette for business, like choosing not to reply all and taking the time to proofread your email, can make a huge difference in communication, and as a result, your productivity. Learn more about powerful communication and strategic leadership practices with an online business administration degree. You’ll gain the skills and knowledge needed to excel in your role and pursue advancement, such as in management-level careers.

Learn from industry experts in a convenient online learning format at Emmanuel College.