8 Rules for Better Email Etiquette at the Workplace

The average person spends 28% of the workweek reading and responding to email

– The McKinsey Global Institute found that an average employee spends 13 hours a week reading and responding to email. That’s by far the most time-consuming work activity at 28% of our work time.

We spend so much time on emails, yet emails are one of the largest causes of communication breakdowns. Sending emails is a fast and easy way to get our message out there, but emails do not take into account the emotions that can be read into the message. Building rapport is the ultimate goal of communication, but an email can ruin that rapport with the click of a mouse. As we strive to be more efficient in clearing our emails, we may be more prone to making embarrassing mistakes with serious consequences. There are some fundamental email etiquette that everyone should know which can help you avoid misunderstandings and communicate for better work relationships.

Here are 8 rules for better email etiquette at the workplace.


  1. Have a clear subject line

    Our email inboxes are clogged with hundreds of emails a day and it can be incredibly time consuming trying to make sense of all the information and deciding which ones are worth keeping. Having a clear subject line is important as they can help you decide whether or not to open that email. For instance, when you read “Quick question on your presentation” versus “Enquiry on your presentation”, you will instinctly choose to click on the former email. A clear subject line stands out as it appeals to the concerns and interests of the recipient. According to Convince and Convert, 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone.

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  1. User proper salutation

    You may have seen emails that start with “Hi folks” or “Hey guys” or “Yo Stan!”. While using such terms may be alright for colleagues you are friendly with, they are too informal for office correspondences, especially if the recipients involve outsiders such as vendors and customers. Use a greeting that reflects the existing level of the relationship. For instance, when emailing a new client, it should be a formal “Dear Mr Cooper” or “Dear Shannon”. As you get to know each other, greetings may become less formal- “Hi Shannon”, but only if the conversation suggests that this will be well-received (if the recipient has emailed you back and used a less formal salutation). Add a greeting even when replying to an email which has no greeting. Furthermore, avoid shortening anyone’s names. Say “Hi Elizabeth”, unless you are certain that she prefers to be called “Liz”.

 3.  Closing emails professionally

 How you sign off the email is just as important as how you say “hello” in an email. A lukewarm sign-off can undermine the hard work that goes into crafting the content of your email. Put in the same effort into how to sign off an email as you did in the greeting and content. Always add a sign-off phrase before your name such as “Kind regards” or “Best wishes” to convey a professional image. Avoid phrases that may be perceived as laidback and casual such as “Cheers”. It is also advisable to include your contact details such as a phone number. For external emails, ensure that you include a signature block with basic information about your role, website and contact details. Being thoughtful in signing off your email will go a long way in delivering an excellent email that leaves a good impression on the recipient.


4. Be short and sweet

This applies to the content of your message. Busy executives will hardly have time to read the bulk of your email and many merely skim through to get the gist of what you are trying to say. Make sure that the first line of the email clearly communicates the purpose of you writing the particular email. There is no need to fluff up your email with asking about their kids or weekend (unless you are truly writing to someone to catch-up). While it is pleasant, it can be a waste of time for busy people.  Another tip to take note is that if you do have much to write, consider formatting your message by using bullet points to display the information.

5. Do not hit the “Reply all” button

While the mass email function is a good way to disseminate information to a group of people at once, it can also be annoying to get a whole bunch of emails jamming up your inbox when the recipients hit “reply all”. When replying an email, ask yourself who needs to receive the information you are sending and only send to those people. No one wants to read emails that has no relevant information to them. Take a minute and evaluate if all 20 people on the list needs to read the email. Being over-copied on emails can be particularly frustrating to higher-ups who receives a few hundred emails a day in their inboxes. 

6. Proofread

Proofread every message before hitting the “send” button. That typo or grammatical error you make might leave a bad impression on the recipient. When you write emails, people cannot read your expressions or hear the tone of your voice, hence you need to be careful about the words you choose and how you communicate your message. Mistakes in the email could imply that you lack attention to detail. Worst still, you could be viewed as being sloppy or ignorant. Don’t rely solely on spellcheck or other editing tools. A colleague wanted to write “Sorry for the inconvenience” but ended up writing “Sorry for the incontinence” with spellcheck. Read and re-read your emails a few times. It may also help to read aloud the email. Remember that emails often get forwarded to other people in the company and you may be judged by others for your errors. 

7. Emojis, abbreviations and exclamation marks

Nearly a decade ago, emojis were the exclusive language of teenage girls. Now they are used by everyone as visuals in text, mobile and even email messaging! You have surely seen (or use) the hearts, smiley faces and other small emoticons which have made their way into the workplace. Those who use emojis frequently believe that emojis express their feelings more accurately than words. While abbreviations such as “FYI” or “CEO” might be acceptable and even widely used, be cautious when it comes to “LOL” or “TTYL” especially in a professional workplace email. Emojis and certain abbreviations may be considered slang and may be more appropriate in casual conversations between colleagues and friends. It is important to know how to communicate sharply and express your feelings without the use of emojis as using certain emojis can backfire and give the impression that you are not taking the matter seriously. Rather than using too many exclamation marks in your email, use words such as “delighted”, “thrilled” etc to convey your happiness on landing a new deal. While emojis, abbreviations and exclamation marks can have a place in work emails, use them sparingly and appropriately. 

8. Think before attaching that file

I get a bit annoyed when I go to the trouble of downloading a big file only to find a 6 sentence message in plain text. Or trying to open up an attachment only to realise that it was too big and downloading the file will take hours. Before you attach any documents to your email, ask yourself whether an attachment is really necessary. Some of them could be un-necessary and could be inserted into the body of the email. If you have a few files to send, put everything into a zip file so that the recipient only has to download once rather than clicking on 10 files. In addition, we also get the dreaded “crap, I forgot to attach the file” moment. The best way not to forget is to attach the file the moment you start writing your email. One more thing to note in sending images or documents is not to assume that the recipient can read the file in the format you send them. Stick to the common and established formats such as PDFs or JPEGs.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?

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Topics: Communication

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