Work emails: Judgement required

From a formal “Dear” line and asking about your weekend, to one-word messages and emojis, to swear words and jokes that toe the line into being NSFW. There are many different approaches to how people write emails at work.

A friend and former colleague, Amanda, recently sent me a hilarious video from CBC’s TV show, Baroness von Sketch, on the topic of work emails. In addition to being just plain funny, she thought the video, which you can view here or by clicking on the screen cap below, was particularly relevant to me given the theme of Pencil Skirts & Punctuation.

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The manager in this video is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to email etiquette. She is informal and unprofessional in emails, and expects staff to act similarly. Although her unprofessionalism is taken to the extreme because it’s *~hilarious~* in the sketch, it’s also relevant for work emails in the real world.

“There’s nothing wrong with throwing in an ‘exclamaysh’… It lets people know that you’re not gonna skin us alive.”

Let’s think about what a real professional work email looks like. In my opinion, it includes a clear subject line, a greeting (such as “Hi Mary,”), short sentences and concise writing, one exclamation mark at the most if required, a clear request or action item, finished with your name and email signature. Don’t forget to proofread. Pretty simple!

As a general rule-of-thumb, being professional (or “profesh”) in emails is important. Why?

  • You may know the person you’re sending an email to, but others CC’d on an email thread – either immediately or in the future – may not know you as well and may not interpret an unprofessional tone in a favourable manner.
  • An attempt to be informal or to make a joke could be risky, because emails lack the nonverbal cues that often make jokes land as intended.
  • An email may be filed for future reference. It would be unfortunate to have an unprofessional email as part of a thread that’s in an official record.
  • Whether you’re starting out in your career or are a seasoned veteran in an industry, email is a tool that helps communicate the type of person you are and your work style. Using a professional tone communicates that you’re polished, dedicated to quality and serious about your career.

That said, know your audience. If you’re emailing a close contact at work, it could be appropriate to include something lighthearted and funny in your email – just make sure it’s suitable for work, and that you think the recipient will be okay seeing it. Showing your personality is an important part of fostering positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

What guidelines or rules of thumb do you use for writing work emails? Please share in the comments.

Thanks again to Amanda for inspiring this post!

Photo credits:;

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