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Don't Make These Mistakes When You Email Your Staff

Updated on April 10, 2017
SMD2012 profile image

I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

Learn more about the pitfalls of communicating with your employees via email instead of face to face.

Be careful when communicating with your employees via email instead of face to face.

Managers often rely on email to quickly communicate important information to their staff. But if not used prudently, managers who rely too much on email when they should been having face-to-face conversations with their employees can do more harm than good. Follow these simple tips to avoid common email pitfalls that undermine your authority and alienate your staff.

Write your emails as if they'll be plastered on a billboard one day.

Sending an email to an employee from home, late at night should only be done in an extreme emergency. Most of the time you are better off sleeping on it and composing your email at work the next day, when you mind is clear.
Sending an email to an employee from home, late at night should only be done in an extreme emergency. Most of the time you are better off sleeping on it and composing your email at work the next day, when you mind is clear.

What are some common mistakes managers make when dealing with employees by email?

In most offices, email is the dominant method for interoffice communications when face-to-face meetings are not possible. That said, there are some situations where the use of email communications between a manager and a subordinate is inappropriate.

Here are some common email mistakes to avoid if you want to retain good relations with your employees.

Are you hiding behind your computer in order to avoid conflict at work?
Are you hiding behind your computer in order to avoid conflict at work? | Source

In a recent Huffington Post article, "The 1 Email Successful People Never Send," Will Schwalbe, co-author of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better, notes that when it comes to emails, effective leaders know less is more. He says "For various reasons, short emails are more associated with people at the top of the food chain. If you also send short emails it puts you in the company of the decision-makers. "Short emails are much more respectful of everyone's time."

Hiding behind the email: Never use email for disciplinary actions, performance reviews or other sensitive issues. Communicating bad news by email undermines your credibility as a leader. You want staff to know you can be relied upon to deal with difficult issues in person. Give your employees the respect they deserve, even when you're disciplining them, and have a face-to-face meeting.

As a manager, if you receive a confusing email message from your subordinate, instead of reacting by sending another email, pick up the phone or intercom and ask your subordinate to clarify their email in person. If email messaging is not meeting your communications objectives, as a manager it is your responsibility to stop the cycle of circular emails and start communicating clearly.

Before you send an email to your co-worker two desks away, ask yourself if a face to face conversation would be more appropriate.
Before you send an email to your co-worker two desks away, ask yourself if a face to face conversation would be more appropriate.

Overlooking the permanency of email messages: Don’t forget that whatever you write in an email becomes a permanent record of your communication, complete with a date and time stamp. Anything you write in an email can be used in court for wrongful dismissal suits. Emails are much easier to dig up, print off and/or forward outside the office than traditional paper memos are.

For email, the old postcard rule applies. Nobody else is supposed to read your postcards, but you'd be a fool if you wrote anything private on one.

— Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
If you are upset, take a break and calm down before you send an email to a staff member. Once an angry email has been sent, it can't be taken back, so choose your words carefully.
If you are upset, take a break and calm down before you send an email to a staff member. Once an angry email has been sent, it can't be taken back, so choose your words carefully.

Using passive aggressive language in an email: If you feel yourself reacting strongly to an email or a phone call or discussion at a recent meeting, sit with your feelings for a few minutes. Then decide if writing and sending an email is the most appropriate response. (When emotions are charged, it usually isn't.)

When you must respond to a difficult situation by email, watch the tone you use. Treat your email communications as you would a memo. Avoid flaming, passive aggressive language and sarcasm at all costs, unless you want to severely demoralize your staff and create insurmountable communication barriers further down the road.

In order to avoid using passive aggressive language in your email and improve receptivity after your message has been sent, state your feelings clearly, in the most positive manner possible, right at the beginning message. Effective managers know that positive reinforcement is just as important as constructive criticism. But if that positive reinforcement is too vague, or buried at the bottom of the email message, your employee might not 'hear' it.

Effective managers always seek to be fair: If you're a manager who cares about dealing with your employees in a fair, empathetic, and yet firm manner, you'll see that email messaging is not always the best way to reach your employees.

Lee Iacocca has this advice on giving feedback to others:

When I must criticize somebody, I do it orally; when I praise somebody, I put it in writing.

This is apt and timely advice when applied to communicating with employees by email.

Have you ever had to discipline a subordinate for sending inappropriate email at work?

See results

© 2012 Sally Hayes

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  • somethgblue profile image

    somethgblue 21 months ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

    Oh the timing of the email ensured that I would read it the next morning and get to stew and think about it until my boss got there two hours later.

    I would never willing leave my job and them begin to look for another, if I go it will be on my terms while I'm still employed. However here is something to think about . . . if you get fired from a job, they give you a box and the door, they don't give you two weeks notice, so why the heck should I.

    I will be there one day and not the next, no phone call, no email, seeya wouldn't want to be ya. Most people would consider that burning your bridges but let's get real. If you're leaving a job does it merit a good recommendation from you, so why would you expect one from them?

  • SMD2012 profile image
    Author

    Sally Hayes 21 months ago

    Thank you for sharing, somethgblue. I'm sorry you had such a frustrating experience. You brought up a good point I hadn't even considered and that is the time of day that an email is composed and sent. Sending an email after hours when an employee doesn't have a chance to reply face-to-face is unfair and undermines an employee's ability to problem-solve urgent issues.

    Best of luck with whatever next steps you choose on your career path, whether you stay where you are or decide to leave and find another job.

  • somethgblue profile image

    somethgblue 21 months ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

    Yes, this Hub is very appropriate, I just was on the receiving end of a email from my boss that I printed out an saved because it has motivated me to begin looking for another job. The email was totally disrespectful, without any positive reinforcement, could have and should have been a face to face meeting.

    I was deeply offended and it seemed more of an attack of character than any helpful solutions to a complex problem, none of which I have any control over.

    I find that many times my boss hides behind emails rather than have meaningful discussions to solve problems, especially considering they think that we do the same job but I produce five times the amount of work.

    Difficult situation that I'm not sure switching jobs would solve but it sure makes me feel like trying.

    While the email wasn't sent from their home it was composed and sent late in the day, when I was no longer there at work to be able to have a face to face meeting, it was very sneaky and suspicious way of dealing with a problem that should have taken place in a five minute discussion.

  • Born2care2001 profile image

    Rev Bruce S Noll HMN 5 years ago from Asheville NC

    SMD2012,

    I really like this hub! Since email is an electronic medium it can provide warmth or shock the you know what out of you. I prefer the warmth avenue. Not everyone does!

    Thank you so much for the clarification. Let he who has ears...

    Enjoyed the line about effective managers being using fairness.

    Thanks,

    Bruce

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