These guidelines are intended to help you make efficient and effective use of e-mail. By following the advice given, you will be able to establish practices for handling e-mail and avoid many potential pitfalls. They will also help to improve internal and external company communications.
The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure the proper use of Safety Management (UK)’s e-mail system and make users aware of what Safety Management (UK) deems as acceptable and unacceptable use of its e-mail system.
E-mail is a business communication tool and users are obliged to use this tool in a responsible, effective and lawful manner. Although by its nature e-mail seems to be less formal than other written communication, the same laws apply. Therefore, it is important that users are aware of the legal risks or e-mail:
- If you send e-mails with any libellous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks, you and Safety Management (UK) can be held liable
- If you forward e-mails with any libellous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks you and Safety Management (UK) can be held liable
- If you unlawfully forward confidential information you and Safety Management (UK) can be held liable
The company needs to implement etiquette rules for the following three reasons:
- Professionalism: by using proper e-mail language we will convey a professional image
- Efficiency: e-mails that get to the point are much more effective than poorly worded e-mails
- Protection from liability: employee awareness of e-mail risks will protect company from costly legal action.
Managing your e-mail
E-mail is an essential means of communication. However, if you don’t manage your e-mail use, it can be a drain on your time and become stressful.
- Wherever possible talk instead of type! It is easy to overuse e-mail to communicate. Don’t use e-mail to people in the same office unless absolutely necessary and even in the same building if possible. It is often quicker and more valuable to walk and talk to the individuals concerned or to pick up the phone.
- E-mail should be checked every working day but managers should be careful not to encourage unhealthy expectations – staff should not feel that they must respond to e-mails immediately, out of hours, when on holiday etc., unless it is part of their role.
- Clear out your inbox – it reduces clutter and stress. Don’t store e-mails in your inbox. Move them into folders. By keeping a clear inbox you can take charge of your day and your work priorities.
- Avoid any folder becoming too large. Large folders are difficult to manage and are slow to open. Carry out regular housekeeping to remove messages you no longer require.
- Never use e-mail for urgent matters. Regularly flagging messages as urgent creates an environment in which people feel they must view each e-mail as it arrives. This creates an unpredictable and inefficient working day. Use the ‘three hour’ rule – for anything that requires a response within three hours use more alternative communication methods such as telephone or in person.
- Your e-mail subject line is, next to your name, the first thing the recipient sees. It is important.
- Use informative subject lines. When starting a new message, make effective and appropriate use of the subject. It is important that recipients of your messages have a good indication as to which messages to read first and which ones can be read at a later date. It is also easier to find relevant messages at a later date.
- Stick to one topic per e-mail. Several short messages are usually preferable to one long message covering many separate subjects.
- Be clear about any points of action. When you send a message to someone that requires an action, make it very clear within the first few lines of the e-mail what is expected. If possible, you should also include a due date.
- Avoid overuse of capital letters. Capital letters can be used sparingly to emphasise a word or phrase. If they are used excessively then this is e-mail equivalent of shouting.
- Ensure you are e-mailing the correct address
- Use mailing lists. Local e-mail lists exist for different groups within the company. If possible, use one of the lists rather than trying to maintain your own list and having a large number of individual addresses as recipients.
- Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is important because poor spelling, grammar and punctuation may give a bad impression of the company and will not help you to clearly convey your message. Messages with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and in extremes can sometimes distort the meaning of your text. Outlook has the facility for checking your spelling. Please use it.
- Use a short informative e-mail signature. Your e-mail signature should include your name, job title, telephone and e-mail details.
- Consider your mode of address. If you know someone very well and e-mails are always going backwards and forwards between you, it may be natural to drop any preamble or sign-off. But in other cases launching straight into a message and giving no friendly parting shot may be seen as cold if not downright rude. Old fashioned pleasantries still have their place.
- Remember an e-mail is forever. Never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want your boss, your aunt or a lawyer to see. Even if you delete an e-mail from your ‘sent mail’ box, it lives on elsewhere. And bear in mind that the Data Protection and Freedom of Information laws apply to e-mails as well as paper records.
- Remember that when formatting in your e-mails, the recipient may not be able to view formatting, or might see different fonts than you had intended. Company standard font is Arial size 11 or 12.
- Do not request delivery and read receipts unless absolutely necessary. They just tend to annoy!
- Use the cc field sparingly – if you do use the cc field ensure the recipient knows why they are receiving a copy of the e-mail
- Think before you hit ‘reply all’. Ask yourself whether all of the people on the recipient list really need to see your reply. Many times people are added to an e-mail thread and get included in all of the subsequent discussions which occur. This can be a major inconvenience.
- Pause before you hit the send button. If you are angry or upset about the message you are replying to, give yourself some time to calm down before replying. Reading through your reply several times will also help. Sending a quick and angry response rarely helps and often leads to an increasingly acrimonious exchange of messages.
- Take care when replying to lists. When you receive a message from an e-mail list, be very careful to direct your reply to the appropriate address. A common problem arises when a person should reply to an individual, but instead sends that reply to the entire list.
- Do respond. Just because you receive a large volume of e-mail, it’s no excuse not to reply to colleagues (but you don’t have to use e-mail of course).
- When you reply to an e-mail, include the original mail in your reply, in other words click ‘reply’ instead of ‘new mail’.
- In work e-mails, try not to use abbreviations. The recipient may not be aware of the meaning and this is inappropriate in business e-mails. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley J.
- Add a summary to put a forwarded message in context.
- Legal obligations. Never send or forward messages containing libellous, defamatory, offensive, discriminatory or obscene remarks.
- Spell out, at the top, what you think the recipient will find interesting. Is the message for action, for information, for interest etc.
- Be concise.
- Be very careful when opening attachments, even if the message appears to be from someone you know. E-mail attachments infected with viruses are one of the most widely used methods for infecting PCs.
- Be selective in the sending of attachments. Wherever possible either include the text in the body of the e-mail or even better, save the file onto a shared drive or web space and then send your recipient the web address.
- Consider the file format of the attachment. When sending an attachment you should ensure, in advance, that the recipient can handle your attachment – remember not all computer users use the same software. For example, a user external to the company might not have the latest version of Word installed whilst other organisations may have a policy which discourages the sending or receiving of certain file types.
- Be careful about the size of the attachment. If you really do need to add attachments, thing carefully about the file size. Files in text (txt), and portable document format (pdf) are usually more compact format than files in Word (doc) format.
- Make links to the web as convenient as possible. If you are including a URL in your e-mail so that the recipient can click on it and go straight to the website, put angle brackets (< >) around the URL. That way, even if the address goes over a second line, it will still be ‘clickable’ and you will save someone cutting and pasting.
- By sending large attachments you can annoy colleagues and external customers and even bring down their e-mail system. Wherever possible try to compress attachments and only send attachments when they are productive.