Study Unveils Workplace Email Blunders: Here’s What to Avoid

Here’s what more than 1,000 employees had to say about the best and worst email greetings, signoffs, and phrases — their answers may surprise you.

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Study Unveils Workplace Email Blunders: Here's What to Avoid

Here's what you need to know:

  • Email is still the way most people communicate online — and the number of users is expected to grow
  • What sets business communication apart from casual or personal connections is strict adherence to politeness and professionalism
  • LiveCareer asked more than 1,000 American employees what they thought about work emails and other forms of digital communication
  • The survey found that commonly used greetings, signoffs, and phrases aren’t always businesslike and more than a few actually get on recipients’ nerves
  • It’s recommended for employers to have an email policy in place

Whoever said that texts, chat apps, messaging, and social media would soon replace emails as the standard in business communication? They were either far ahead of their time or just plain wrong.

Like it or hate it, email is still the way most people communicate online. What’s more, the number of users is expected to grow.

Based on data from Statista.com, 4 billion people used email worldwide in 2020. And the number is projected to grow to 4.6 billion by 2025. It sounds like email isn’t going away any time soon.

Email clearly has staying power. But it also has a long list of annoyances that LiveCareer, a resume-writing and career advice firm, captured recently in a report on digital business communication.

What sets business communication apart from casual or personal connections is strict adherence to politeness and professionalism. And email messages shouldn’t be an exception.

What are common email blunders and annoyances?

LiveCareer asked more than 1,000 American employees what they thought about work emails and other forms of digital communication. The survey found that commonly used greetings, signoffs, and phrases aren’t always businesslike and more than a few actually get on recipients’ nerves.

The list of email blunders starts with greetings, the 1st words that impact recipients when they open their messages.

What are the best and worst email greetings?

Here are LiveCareer’s top 5 worst email greetings, followed by the most acceptable and least annoying ones to survey respondents.

The worst:

  1. No greeting at all
  2. “Hey”
  3. “Hey there”
  4. “To whom it may concern”
  5. “Hi”

The best:

  1. “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”
  2. “Greetings”
  3. “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam”
  4. “Dear [name]”
  5. “Happy [day of the week]

Greetings establish the relationship between sender and receiver. As the first words in a message, they can attract readers’ attention and hold their interest or turn them off.

LinkedIn says that although salutations aren’t a business requirement for emails, senders should use greetings. The social media platform recommends using formal greetings like “Dear [first or last name]” and saving informal greetings like “Hi [first name]” for more familiar recipients.

What are the best and worst email signoffs?

LiveCareer cited these signoffs in the “worst” and “best” categories.

The worst:

  1. No signoff at all
  2. “Warmly”
  3. “Regards”
  4. “Love”
  5. “Thanks”

The best:

  1. “Thank you”
  2. “Have a great day”
  3. “Sincerely”
  4. “Best wishes”
  5. “Best regards”

LiveCareer’s signoffs seem tame compared to others floating around online. In fact, there are more signoffs to avoid in business, according to other sources.

More bad email signoffs

Exclaimer.com, an email management solutions provider, identified over-the-top email signoffs to avoid.

The list includes words or phrases that senders borrow from hit movies, famous quotes, and popularized sayings, such as:

  • “Hasta la vista, baby,” made famous by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movie series.
  • “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,” a famous quote (to those who recognize it) that senders adopt to enhance their professional image.
  • “Whatever,” which falls into the “it’s cool to be flippant” category.
  • “Laterz,” a slang term that’s misspelled to appear “jazzier.”
  • “(drop mic),” according to Exclamer.com, this signoff is written to mimic the popularized sound effect.
  • “I0/,” a digital symbol among other emoticons that senders regularly use in emails.
  • “Blessings of the day,” one of several spiritual signoffs that surface occasionally in business emails.
  • “B-b-b-best r-r-r-regards,” an attempt at making the standard business signoff, “Best regards,” seem “cool.”
  • “Much love,” a signoff that’s better left for personal emails to family members and friends.

These signoffs may or may not be familiar to most people, but they’re all unprofessional and even insensitive, in some cases.

The same applies to phrases that email experts say are bad for business.

What are the most and least annoying email phrases?

The phrases that employees in LiveCareer’s survey dislike are more annoying than un-businesslike. In fact, these phrases crop up so often in emails that their formal-sounding tones could pass for acceptable business communication.

The top 5 most annoying phrases are listed here, followed by the least offensive ones.

The worst:

  1. “Not sure if you saw my last email”
  2. “Sorry for the double email”
  3. “As per my last email”
  4. “As discussed”
  5. “Let’s take this offline”

The best:

  1. “Hope this email finds you well”
  2. “I hope you’re having a great (day, week)”
  3. “I hope you’re having a productive day”
  4. “Hope you’re well”
  5. “Per our conversation”

The worst phrases have a polite but subtly commanding tone that email recipients could find intimidating. LiveCareer survey analysts called these phrases passive-aggressive expressions that could translate as:

  • I’m sure you saw my last mail. Why didn’t you reply? I’m waiting.
  • I’m not even close to feeling sorry for the double email. REPLY TO THE FIRST ONE.
  • Hi. I’ll use “as per my last mail” just to make sure you feel the pressure.

It’s no surprise that survey respondents preferred the friendlier, more collaborative-sounding phrases in the “best” category.

The worst phrases have a polite but subtly commanding tone that email recipients could find intimidating.

More bad email phrases

It’s also no surprise that Exclaimer.com has its own series of phrases to avoid in emails. Here’s the list and why the company cites each as a problem:

  • “The problem is…,” which suggests that the sender describes only problems, not solutions. Exclaimer.com recommends writing instead, “We’re working on a solution.”
  • “You should…” People resent being told they should do something, especially when told in a pushy, micromanaging tone.
  • “Let’s touch base.” Instead of sounding vague, this overused phrase should suggest or ask for a specific time and place for the sender and recipient to connect.
  • “Sorry to bother you” is a filler statement that avoids getting to the point of the email.
  • “To be honest with you” is another filler statement. By having to declare honesty, the sender comes off as being dishonest.
  • “No problem” is often a recipient’s knee-jerk, thoughtless response to an email request that fails to reassure the original sender that a job will be done.
  • “I’ll try to,” is a weak email response that also fails to reassure the original sender that a request will be completed.

Phrases like “as per my previous (or last) email” and “just checking” made Explain.com and LiveCareer’s list of bad phrases. Both are passive-aggressive ways of pressuring email recipients to meet a deadline or make a commitment.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

How can employers fix gaffes and annoyances in emails?

Given how annoying and outright inappropriate emails can be, should employers step in with a fix? And do they have a right and responsibility to do so? Email experts say yes.

Start with an email policy

From a legal viewpoint, the fix should start with an email policy. Jurado and Farshchian Attorneys at Law recommend these 5 reasons for having an email policy:

  1. Protect organizational data from cybersecurity breaches.
  2. Prevent misconduct, such as emailing sexist, racist, and other inappropriate content.
  3. Reduce the risk of liability from employees’ carelessness or misconduct in handling emails.
  4. Educate employees on email etiquette.
  5. Formally notify employees of the employer’s right to monitor emails in the workplace.

As for email content, employers can provide workplace guidelines based on the common gaffes and annoyances that studies like LiveCareer uncovered.

Practice email etiquette

Exclaimer.com offers employers these email etiquette rules for employees to follow:

  • Don’t write in all capital letters to avoid an aggressive tone.
  • Use correct grammar and punctuation.
  • Proofread all content.
  • Use standard black 10pt or 12pt fonts for easy-to-read text.
  • Consider tone carefully.
  • Use exclamation points sparingly.
  • Save emoticons like “LOL (laugh out loud)” and abbreviations like “BRB (be right back)” for mostly personal emails.
  • Tailor messages to account for cultural differences in speaking and writing.
  • Always include clear, descriptive subject lines.
  • Keep confidential topics out of email discussions.
  • Use a professional email address in business correspondence.
  • Limit the use of humor to avoid offending someone whose attitude about what’s funny may be different.

The right policies and email etiquette guidelines go a long way

Until a better way to communicate digitally comes along, email will still be the dominant format in the workplace.

In the meantime, the right policies and etiquette guidelines can help employers make emails less annoying and more professional.

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