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Six email etiquettes to practice in your workplace

Emails, emails, emails. When you think of emails the first thing that comes to mind is Spam emails, the second would probably be the hundreds of unread emails you've ignored that keeps building up.

The etiquettes for using personal emails, are very different from those you need to follow in the workplace. We are not talking about your standard workplace email policy that bars you from using your work email for personal use. Or the one that advises you not to click on emails you don't recognise.

These are good email etiquettes in the workplace, and are specifically designed to protect the business you work for, from liabilities, computer viruses and cyberattacks. The etiquettes we refer to in this article are mostly unsaid, yet they are equally as important.

Below are six email etiquettes you should strive to practice in the workplace.

1. Don't ignore emails

Ignoring emails is one of the most common behaviours we observe in the workplace, especially among senior managers. Somehow these people think that not checking or responding to emails, signify they are busy. On the contrary, it demonstrates a degree of irresponsibility, and a lack of courtesy.

No one likes going through hundreds, if not thousands of emails, but it is part of the job. Some of these emails might not be important. In some cases you might just be copied in, to keep you aware. Still, there could be important emails waiting for your response. When the sender doesn't receive a response, you put them in a situation where they have to send follow up emails, because they can't get you on the phone or put a meeting in your busy calendar.

Eventually, they get your unsaid message, which is, you are too busy. Well guess what?

Rather than being too busy, try and be more productive with you time.

Allocate 30 mins of your time a day, to sorting out your emails. Don't ignore them because you feel you are too busy. If everyone were to ignore their emails because they were too busy, no one will get anything done.

2. Don't use your emails as a chat function

When responding to emails aim to provide enough details to the recipient, such that, they won't need to send follow up emails for clairity. More importantly, don't use your emails as a chat function. What we mean by this is that, instead of sending short emails back and forth, between yourself and the recipient, try and communicate everything in one email. If the recipient still needs more information, setup a follow up meeting with them.

Emails are not meant to be use as a chat function, and this practice could encourage nuisance emails, which would further dissuade people from reading emails.

3. Avoid colouring or boldening or using all Caps in an email

Email culture varies not just at an organisational level, it also varies at an individual level. One email habit that varies across people is the meaning of coloured and boldened text within an email.

For example, if you used red text in an email, it could be interpreted as escalating a risk, or flagging something important. But it can also be interpreted as you firing a warning at someone or threatening a workplace colleague.

Another example is if you boldened text within an email paragraph. It could be interpreted as you flagging something important. But it can also be interpreted as you shouting.

Our favourite example is when a person sends you a workplace email and half of it is written in all Caps. Most of the time this is interpreted as shouting, even if that wasn't the message you wanted to deliver.

Now imagine what a paragraph written in bold red all Caps text might be interpreted as. My advice, only use bold text for email headings and signatures. Avoid using red text in any email, but if you have to, make it clear at the beginning of the email what the red text denotes. Lastly, never send an email with text written in all Caps. It's highly frowned upon, and is mostly interpreted as you shouting.

4. Don't copy people into your emails unnecessarily

Aha. This one hits a nerve. Ever had that email where a person copies in 20 people that have nothing to do with the email. You are probably wondering, why.

There are a couple of psychological reasons for this:

  1. The email sender wants to draw unnecessary attention to an issue in order to force the hand of the email recipient.

  2. The email sender could be suffering from inferiority complex, and would like to show off their achievements to garner acknowledgment from the recipient.

In addition to copying an unnecessary amount of people into an email, there are instances where the right person is copied into an email, but for the wrong reason. This usually happens when an employee is desperate to show their line manager that they are working. Somehow they feel copying them into every email, is the right way to do this.

In such cases the line manager is either guilty of micromanaging employees, or the employee comes from a previous organisation which condones a culture of micromanaging. As a result, they struggle to adapt to a new environment that encourages them to show initiative, with little oversight.

Either way, only copy people into an email if they need to be aware of the content of your email. Your line manager or CEO doesn't need to be copied into every email you send out.

5. Avoid trying to relay emotions over an email

We know there are emojis out there, and we know it is possible to sound empathetic in an email. But, emails that try to relay emotions can go horribly wrong, if the recipient misinterprets your intentions or motives.

Without hearing the voice of a person, or seeing changes in their facial expressions, one could misinterprete an email aimed at relaying specific emotions, such as happiness and disappointment. The best thing to do, if you want to relay a complex emotional message, is to setup a face to face, or remote video meeting with the recipient you want to communicate with.

6. Mark important emails as high priority

This might not seem important but it is. A lot of senior managers only check emails if they have been marked as a high priority. We are not saying mark every email as high priority. We are saying mark important emails as high priority, especially when you require a response quickly. Even with this, there is no guarantee your email will be responded to quickly, or that it won't end up in the Junk or Spam box. Still, there is no harm in trying.


Used the right way, emails are still a great means of communicating in the workplace. There are just too many unsaid email etiquettes out there. Therefore, organisations should strive to codify these unsaid etiquettes into their existing email policies. They should also endeavour to educate employees about these email etiquettes in workshops and team meetings.

Lastly, when you start a new job, endeavour to find out what the existing email cultures are. You don't want to start off a new job by relaying unintended messages in your emails.



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