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Not surprisingly, digital communication accounts for a large portion of professional interaction these days. In fact, the average U.S. employee sends or receives 121 emails every single day, according to a recent report by market research firm Radicati Group. And McKinsey Global Institute clocks the average worker in at 13 hours each week for email — that’s a whopping 28 percent of work time. Talk about inbox overload. With more relaxed business environments, it’s easy to become overly casual with messaging across platforms both internally and with clients. Set yourself up for success by avoiding these common email faux pas in the workplace.
1. Becoming a slave to your email
Your inbox never stops working. It doesn’t take vacation or shut down after-hours. Unfortunately, many employees follow suit, sometimes dropping everything to refresh and respond right away. Technology researcher (and author of Work Smarter, Rule Your Email) Alexandra Samuel recommends creating mail filters for different types of email, committing to a regimented email schedule (when you check, how many times a day, how long you devote to the task), and even setting up your inbox to push top priority messages to you via text so you’re not constantly chained to your inbox.
2. Misusing cc or reply all
It’s understandable to want to involve the entire team in an email discussion, but oftentimes it’s an imposition on people’s time. Task management technology group Azendoo suggests copying only those who need to weigh in directly. The same goes for replying to email in which others are copied. Try responding only to those who need to know. Another serial offense: Marking email as urgent that isn’t actually very time-sensitive — just don’t do it. It’s a bad habit that will send you straight to the email blacklist.
3. Writing bad subject lines
We’ve probably all done it at least once in our careers. But emails with bad subject lines have a notoriously low open rate. If you want yours to be opened, make subject lines specific and action focused, says corporate writing coach Cathy McNally. You’re more likely to get a response if your subject line includes the necessary action, deadline, or question at hand. And always start a new email chain for different discussion topics so you don’t drive yourself, your boss, and your colleagues crazy when they’re searching for notes on a specific subject.
4. Replacing in-person or phone-worthy conversations with email
Have you ever emailed the person sitting in the next office over or tried to hash out a solution to your company’s shipping concerns in a miles-long back-and-forth chain? It’s easy to default to email, but it’s your job to know when it’s better to just get up and walk across the room or pick up the phone, says email productivity expert Marsha Egan.
Reread your company’s email policy, if it has one. If not, follow a few unspoken rules, like being careful with language so as not to offend anyone, suggests Minda Zetlin, co-author of The Geek Gap. Also, double-check that any attachments contain the correct documents to avoid accidental sharing of sensitive data or trade secrets. And triple-check the recipients to make sure you don’t email the wrong person(s).
6. Using poor grammar or rambling on
Content may be king, but if it’s not presented in a professional manner, forget about how spot-on the message is. Always reread an email at least once before hitting send, checking for correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Also, make sure email is concise and to the point. Sandra Lamb, author of Writing Well for Business Success, suggests thinking through your message until you can sum it up in one sentence. From that sentence, determine what other information the recipient needs to know and delete the extra fluff. If the subject of your email requires a long or wordy explanation, consider using a different form of communication instead.
7. Using improper form and tone
Email without a proper greeting often gets marked as spam, says Lisa Eggers, marketing associate at One Legal. Address the recipient by name so it feels personal and reads professionally. Management and leadership training organization MindTools recommends considering your audience before using sarcasm or humor (if you’re writing to your boss, you should use a more formal tone than if you’re emailing a team member). And never send email in the heat of the moment. If you’re stressed, upset, or angry, give yourself time to cool off instead of sending something overly emotional and putting your work relationships at risk.