Ten rules of email etiquette at work

Email etiquette

Etiquette: a customary code of polite behaviour in society. A customary code that almost always gets violated. We did a bit of reading, and wow, there’s a long list of crimes against common courtesy. Nat’s pet peeve: ‘shipped up friends and their wide-eyed fascination with dating apps (no, it’s not cute that you’ve never had to use Tinder). Kristen can’t stand the sound of chewing. We both hate last-minute cancellations; no one likes people who crowd around airport luggage carousels.

When it comes to email, etiquette can have wide implications. We spend over a quarter of our time at work reading and replying – and it’s estimated that half is wasted through poor communication. Workplace relationships and productivity suffer when we flout the unwritten rules of electronic mail. Lucky for you, we’ve noted them down:

From us to you: Your email playbook

It was 1976 when Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send an email. We can only imagine how appalled the late (and great) royal would be by modern inbox manners. The ‘send’ button may make communication instant, but good old-fashioned respect and consideration still go a long way.

1. Top of mind doesn’t mean top of inbox

Just because it’s easy to whip out an email about something on your mind doesn’t mean you should do it. This is especially true if you’re in a formal leadership position. Your thought bubble turns into a grenade as it flies through the ether. When it lands, it can blow up priorities and deep work. Instead, jot down your thinking and raise it through more appropriate channels: one-on-ones, strategy meetings… or maybe never.

2. Naming rights

If we got a dollar for every time someone called Kristen, Kirsten… Goops’ holiday gift guide wouldn’t feel so ridiculous! Names are important – any decent email marketer (aka not us) knows that simply adding someone’s name in the subject line boosts open rates by up to 50%. It takes 10 seconds to double-check (or copy and paste) the correct spelling of a recipient’s name, and it’s probably the most valuable time you can invest in sending an email.

3. Passive aggressive is not for Powrsuiters

Assume the intent of your email will be misconstrued. A casually capitalised word or a thumbs-up emoji can easily lead to misunderstandings. Leaning on passive-aggressive phrases in emails doesn’t showcase your displeasure; it just makes you look rude and immature. The same goes for cc’ing in the manager and half the office. Just don’t. The best way to address frustrations is through clear, kind communication. Here are some quick ideas to rephrase your “As per …” openings to save workplace relationships.

4. What do you need?

We love a pleasantry as much as the next person – a quick ‘How are you?’ or enquiry about kids/events/life is a nice touch. But then get straight to it. Like our plates, our inboxes are overloaded; the faster you can get to your point (or request), the more time the recipient can save.

5. For the love of… use BCC

When someone has gone out of their way to make an introduction, they should be thanked. Once. Instead, they’re often overwhelmed with an email chain that has nothing to do with them. BCC is a beautiful tool: When someone no longer needs to be involved in an email convo, move them to BCC. They’ll get reassurance that you’ve followed up without being notified of the ensuing ping-pong game. 

6. Editing is underrated

You may think you’re an expert at ‘blatting out emails’, but chances are, those on the receiving end are getting resentful. The speed at which you can flick off an email may make it feel less formal, but all written communication deserves respect. Check for spelling mistakes, grammar errors, waffly, and roundabout language (and those pass agg phrases!). A well-formed email saves everyone time and will likely get the desired result faster and more enthusiastically.

7. Replied all? We’ve all been there

We’ve all felt the terror of accidentally clicking ‘reply all’. This point isn’t for you – you’ve punished yourself enough. However. Don’t get us started on ‘reply all’ chains. The New Yorker has a brilliant video that explains the horror better than we ever could.

8. Don’t overcompensate

We live in a hybrid world; people take breaks for washing, chores and appointments. We don’t need you to mask your guilt at ‘slacking off’ (or procrastinating) by spamming everyone else with emails. They don’t cover your tracks, they don’t make you look productive, they just add more unnecessary noise in an already loud world. 

9. The mysterious forward

Ahhh, you open an email only to see the clunky layout of an unadulterated forward. No context, no summary, just a confusing communication hot potato. If you receive an email you think is better passed on, resist the urge to click ‘forward’ and walk away. It takes two minutes to explain what you expect the next recipient to do with it, and you’ll save them a bunch of hair pulling head scratching.

10. Google search, not Google mail

We’re excited about the rise of AI, too, but the person at the other end of your email is human, not a robot. If you can’t remember the time, location, or details of something you’ve already received information about, take the time to find them again. The person on the other end of your email is already busy enough to take on your personal administrative duties.

30 second action:

Next time you write an email, copy and paste it into Chat GPT with the prompt ‘How could I improve this email?’

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