Workplace Email Etiquette

Does workplace email etiquette even exist anymore?  If you receive and write a lot of emails, you’re probably fully aware of how pathetic most of them are.

The average employee in the corporate workplace sends and receives 121 emails every day.  That’s a whole lot of opportunity for some shockingly bad email writing.

Do you know any of these people?  They don't even know workplace email etiquette exists.

  • The person who writes an email that is one long continuous run-on sentence with no capitalization no punctuation maybe there’s a period here or there but the email runs on line after line and leaves you screaming for it to end and this is from a guy with a college degree I know this guy.
  • Or the one who writes an email with incorrect or no punctuation little or No sentence structure and just arbitrarily Capitalizes random words Usually at the beginning of A Line.  I know this one too.
  • How about the one whose emails sound like he thinks he’s in charge … of you and everyone else … yet he has literally no authority nor the title to match.  Rude, blustery, demanding.  Then you find out he’s 5’, 5” and 150 lbs.  Yeah, I know this one too.
  • Or you send someone an email asking for an answer to a problem or situation you have.  No matter how detailed your email is, they give you a one or two sentence answer not answering your question.  Prompting another email from you.  Resulting in another one or two sentence answer.  And on and on.  Happens to me almost every day.
  • Or you send the same email as the previous example.  And you get nothing but an attached email the person had previously sent.  Just like you’re getting a response from an autoresponder and no one is really there.  Yup.  Had this happen too.
  • Or you get an email thread that just keeps forwarding “re” in the subject line and continues asking you to refer to the thread below rather than summarizing the issue. And “below” goes on page after page when printed out!  Don’t ever do this!  It sucks.
OK.  I get it.  With somewhere north of 205 billion emails going back and forth every single day throughout this crazy world, it’s inevitable.  There are going to be bad ones.  Far too many of them. 

But why do you have to contribute to the negativity that results from crappy email writing?  And be victimized by the adverse results of those same emails?

I know people who’ve lost their jobs because of an ill-conceived or poorly written email.  You probably do too. 

I know even more that were passed up for a promotion because they couldn’t compose a simple email following even one or two of the suggestions below.

Read this article through.  A simple first step when thinking about workplace email etiquette is to use common courtesy.

Emily Post said “Good manners reflect something from the inside – an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.” 

How about trying to make your workplace … and the world … just a little less stressed-out by putting some extra thought into your emails?

Here are a few tips for workplace email etiquette I’ve assembled by using emails in my business every day.  These tips also come from years of actually getting my butt kicked in the corporate world.

Have you ever found yourself more pissed off about an email than anything you were actually experiencing in the workplace?  Well, I have.

But … then again … I’m “experienced” enough to have worked in the corporate sector when emails didn’t exist.  All interaction in the workplace was either face-to-face or over the phone. 

And, you know what?  It’s amazing how much more civil communication was back then.

These tips don’t pertain to the world of marketing using broadcast emails and autoresponders.  That’s a completely different scenario. 

They also don’t involve emails between you and people you’re close to.  But then, who even does that anymore?  Texting and social media have replaced that medium.

These tips involve only the use of workplace email etiquette.

1.  If you reply all, be prepared for the consequences.  Think about it.  Someone sends out an email to a group of people.  They expect a response.  But do you really think everyone else on that email wants to read your response?

Hell no.  Almost all of them don’t care about your response.  So don’t “reply all.”  It should rarely be used.  Only if you actually need everyone on the email to see the response. 

Why do you want 30 people sending a response to the sender of the email and everyone else on the thread? 

No one cares if you’re a supervisor in Sioux Falls, SD and a certain trailer isn’t in your yard.  Except the person who sent the email right?

And … please … don’t continue to forward a long convoluted email thread that simply refers to the email below and requires someone to read the entire thread.  

Doesn’t this suck?  Start a new one.  And rewrite a clear description of what you’re talking about in the subject line.

2.  Consider the tone of your email.  As a manager and supervisor in the transportation industry for several decades, I’ve tested this one countless times.  If you’re going to err, do it on the side of being overly polite. 

Studies show that emails are perceived by the recipient to be 30% more negative than the sender intended.  Doesn’t that say something about our society.  Seems like almost everything is perceived from a negative viewpoint.

If you’re the sender, reread that email.  Rewrite that email.  Tone it down.  If you’re the receiver, mirror the sender’s tone.  Formal or casual. 

3.  Shorten it.  Revise it if you have to.  Now I’m not talking about the irritating two or three word answer I wrote about above. 

But … in today’s digital and mobile world … people just don’t have the patience or the attention spans that they used to.  And they’re “so stressed out and overworked.”

People want short chunks of information.  Even bullet points.  That’s why I write my site and blog the way I do. 

Check out the format of this page and my site.  Not always great grammar. 

It’s not that I don’t know what good grammar and proper English is.  But because I write the way people talk.

And I don’t give too much information at a time.  Lots of white space to break up the information.

Easy to read.  Easy to digest. 

Here’s an idea.  If you do have a large amount of content, maybe your best move is to put it in a Word document and attach it to a much shorter email.  

4.  Re-read it … and then re-read it again … before you hit send.  Review your entire mail from subject line to signature.  Is it free of typos and bad grammar? 

Re-reading and revising will produce a result that is so rare in today’s workplace.  It’ll display your attention to detail and competence.

But if you don’t know how to correct grammar and typos, there’s nothing I can do for you in this article. 

5.  Whodunnit?  And what did they do?  Why do people send emails that tell the recipient absolutely nothing about the intent of the email?  Is there anything more annoying than getting an email with the subject line “re …?”

Not to me there isn’t. 

Sum up the subject of your email in the subject line. And definitely rewrite the subject line of your forwarded email. 

Make it easier for your readers to prioritize which emails they should read.  Simply by doing this, your emails will be the ones that get read first.

I know.  You’ve received them.  Those nauseating “2nd request” emails and … look out … the hammer.  The dreaded “3rd request.”

From some clerical worker.  With the entire world “CC’d” in.  Don’t be the person that starts that thread.  Or forwards it without revising it. 

6.  How do you use CC properly?  “CC” actually stands for carbon copy.  This goes back to when typists … using a typewriter (Google it) … used carbon paper to make multiples copies of a letter.  Names added to the “CC” line meant that they’d all receive a copy. 

So … when writing an email … if you’re addressing someone who’ll be directly involved in the exchange, then their email goes in the “To” field.  If you include someone just to give them the info or do it for record-keeping, you “CC” them. 

And a “BCC” addition would be a “Blind Carbon Copy.”  You don’t want the recipients of the email to know that this person was included.  It’s an anonymous inclusion. 

7.  Can your recipient get in touch with you other than hitting “reply?”  Have you ever received an email from someone who you wanted to … needed to … get back in touch with but they gave you no contact info?

I know.  Sure you can hit reply.  But don’t you want to know who you’re replying to?

The solution is simple.  Create a signature block and add it to your emails so your recipient isn’t wondering who you are. 

Give them several ways to not only know who you are but how to contact you.

Name, email address (I know, they can reply to your email but make it easy for them), phone number and title or position if you have one.  Even add where you are located. 


8.  Don’t be angry when you hit “send.”  We’ve all received them.  The email that just pisses you off.  You can’t wait to get back and put them in their place.  How dare someone sitting in a cubicle in (anywhere) take that tone with you?

I know.  I’ve done it.  You’ve done it.  We’ve all done it.  Write an email and hit send.  And then spend the next couple hours saying to yourself “What the hell did I just do?  How far up the ladder is this going to go?  Can HR save me?”

Emails are easily saved and easily forwarded.  And they can very often end up in the face of someone who can control your destiny. 

Write the angry email if you must but delete it before sending.  And then cool down.  Or … if you get one of these from someone who doesn’t count … ignore it. 

This has worked wonders for me.

If it involves really bad news … firing someone, reprimanding someone, or simply giving bad news … that’s best done over the phone or in person.  Only a loser does this kind of thing by email. 

9.  Smileys.  How do you use them?  When writing an email in the business world, smileys (emoticons) aren’t appropriate.  You’re not in Junior High. 

Here’s an idea.  Put the smile on your face and write from that perspective.  As a writer … believe me … it works wonders.

Of course, use as many smileys as you want when writing to people you’re intimate with.  But you’re probably not writing a lot emails in your social circle.  

10.  Mind Your Manners.  Please use “Please” and “Thank You”.  I’ve been in the physical workplace interacting at times with hundreds of employees and found that when you use these seldom-used terms, amazing things happen.

If you think they work well in conversation, they work equally well in an email.  Try writing an email with a smile on your face and using these terms and you’ll be amazed at what happens. 

11.  Don’t overdo “10” above.  As I said above, “Thank You” goes a long way.  But don’t just fire off a “Thank you” to thank someone for their response.  They’re already receiving 100+ emails a day.  They probably don’t want another one.

Half of all recipients of a “Thank you” email find it irritating.  Probably best to be polite in your original emails and let the last one go.  


The average person in the physical workplace spends an average of 3 hours a day reading, responding, cataloging and deleting emails. 

One of my task lists used to include a combination of “read emails, put emails in folder, keep those I need to come back to and reply to, and delete the rest.  Then delete the deleted file so they can’t track me down and indict me.”

A little bit of workplace email etiquette and a minimal effort can keep you out of trouble.  And keep your professional reputation intact.

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