Professional Email Etiquette for the Workplace

According to Webster'setiquette is defined as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” Of course there are no actual rules dictating email etiquette, but there are guidelines you can follow if you want to maintain a professional demeanor in the workplace.

Nearly 19 years ago when the Internet started blossoming, Sally Hambridge from Intel created an internal office memo on "netiquette"; otherwise known as Internet etiquette. She labeled this memo, “RFC 1855.” Her advice became well known and frequently called upon when it came to the proper business email etiquette. Obviously, technology has changed in the last 19 years and some technical aspects need updating. However, the general philosophy still stands today. 

Workplace Emails Should Have a Professional Appearance

  1. Subject lines matter – According to Jacqueline Whitmore, author and international etiquette expert, she writes in her book, Business Class, “An e-mail’s importance is often determined by its subject line.” The subject line grabs the reader’s attention and helps keep your email from ending up in the do-not-read pile.  
  2. Proper grammar makes a difference – To be professional in the workplace, you need to write your email in grammatically correct English. Anything less is not acceptable.
  3. Emails need to be proofed too – Sometimes people think emails don’t carry the same weight as a professional report or document. However, the opposite is true. It is extremely important to proof your email before pressing the send button.   
  4. Create a professional signature line – This is not as important for sending interoffice emails. However, for workplace emails that you send outside the office, your signature line needs to be professional. List your full name, title, work website link and office address and phone number, if the template allows for it.
  5. Writing in all caps has no place in work emails – All caps typically denote shouting. Would you normally yell at your co-workers? Unless you want to get fired or written up, you won’t yell. So, don’t write in all caps in your emails.
  6. Too many acronyms don’t work well in professional emails – Acronyms or words formed from initials, like NATO etc., should be used sparingly. Not everyone will know what each acronym means and in an email, the content needs to be completely clear.
  7. Don’t write a novel – Emails should be short and to the point. There is no need to write a long dissertation. Save that for the next staff meeting, interoffice memo or report.

Workplace Emails Need to Model Professional Behaviors

  1. Check your reply options – Before you reply, assess who should receive a response. If everyone needs a reply, hit reply all. Sometimes, only the sender requires a response.
  2. Keep ironic statements to a minimum – Many people enjoy a witty joke now and then, but try to keep irony/sarcasm to a minimum in your workplace emails. Such statements could easily be taken the wrong way. Misunderstandings cause problems.
  3. Don’t forward hoaxes or non-work related emails – Workplace emails are usually monitored by the employers. Sending funny joke emails or anything unrelated to work could be considered a violation. Check with your employer for office guidelines.
  4. Respond to emails in a timely fashion – Don’t let work emails pile up in your inbox. Do your best to respond to emails in a timely fashion. If you don’t have an answer, respond to say that you will get back with the appropriate response as soon as possible.
  5. Keep emails in appropriate folders – For your own sanity, create folders in your email inbox. Keep your emails bold until you read them. Respond appropriately to each email and afterward, place the email in the specified folders for easy future reference.
  6. Follow up to let co-workers know you received their email – If you have not heard back from a co-worker for an email you responded to, follow up with this person. It is always better to be careful and follow up than to be considered unprofessional and not follow up.
  7. Don’t become an annoyance – Sometimes an email may have been sent to someone’s spam folder or a co-worker simply did not see your email. Most likely, they are not trying to avoid you on purpose. If you don’t receive a response in a timely fashion, send another email or pick up the phone and call this person to discuss the matter.

For more email etiquette tips check out 101 Email Tips. In this article, The IStudio shares more specific email tips on: formatting, email attachments, forwarding guidelines, perception issues, privacy and copyright concerns. Remember, these are only guidelines and not “rules”. However, if you want to maintain a professional demeanor at work, you should follow proper email etiquette.  

Photo Credit: Angela Marshall