Every office has different expectations about etiquette and culture, and a lot of those expectations come in the form of unwritten rules. Too many offices and managers haven’t taken the time to write down their email policies. That can be confusing for new hires.
With unwritten rules, new hires can get on the wrong side of office opinion with a misguided, but innocent, email. Fortunately, that awkward outcome is easy to avoid with foresight. There are several simple ways that you can help your new hire get comfortable with email.
Make email a written policy — and train new hires on it
Everything else we’ll cover here relates to this point: you should put an email policy in your company’s employee handbook. Show the policy to new hires during the onboarding process. You could even have new colleagues sign a copy of the document to make sure that they didn’t skip over it to look at the paid leave policy.
“Trainings can discuss when it’s appropriate to send emails,” says Jennifer Magas, a PR professional and professor at Pace University. She teaches media relations, and she’s a professional mentor and used to work in an HR department. According to Magas, email training should cover:
- Which people a new employee is allowed to email
- Questions about tone, style, and formality
- Proofreading standards
- When and how to copy team members
- Email lists and reply-all expectations
Magas also encourages managers to create templates and example emails for recurring tasks — which will help new hires get their bearings quickly and save time for everyone.
In the policy, include the office’s expectations about email availability. If you expect your colleagues to be available at all hours, including nights, days off, and weekends, you have to let new hires know—especially considering the potential legal ramifications of that policy.
Smartphone etiquette for new hires (especially millennials)
“There are a lot of well-established companies that have multiple generations in the workforce,” says Kathleen Downs, a finance and accounting recruiter at the Robert Half staffing agency. Downs regularly helps her placed candidates navigate the culture of their new position. “We recently had a client mention to us that [a younger professional] was not a good fit for a particular job because they would never put their cell phone down.”
Some offices might not mind — or even encourage — the use of mobile devices during meetings, so employees can respond to urgent messages, take notes, or refer to relevant documents. But that can be off-putting for more traditional professionals.
“I have heard executives complain about employees, during staff meetings, looking at their handheld device,” Downs says. “The executives think that’s completely inappropriate because the communication is happening in person.”
Make sure everyone on both sides understands the expectations, or else your team might have a hard time getting along.
Write simply, legibly, and professionally
Clarity is the key to writing. Tell new hires they should get to the point, and encourage them to be straightforward and polite in criticism and disagreement. Write short paragraphs — they’re easier to read quickly — and make use of bullet points.
“Email is the equivalent of a hard-copy business memo,” Downs says. “It’s an official record and should be written with the same professionalism.”
As email has moved onto phones, some professionals have started to let text messaging’s writing style seep into their other correspondence. Colloquialisms like “lol” and “tbh” aren’t suited for email in many offices and neither are emoji. Tell your new hires about your expectations for slang and shorthand.
How to address an email etiquette problem
Passive aggression is not the answer here. Address any problems with new hires during their 30-day review, or make a point to check in with them about the snafu. You can also take the opportunity to have everyone brush up on their email etiquette.
“If employers need to correct someone who isn’t quite following the company emailing culture, sending out an instructional email to all employees on how the office would like emails done can be a gentle way to get the point across,” says Magas.
Lastly, remember — you can be your own worst enemy.
“Every manager should make sure they don’t contradict the things they’re teaching when it comes to emails,” Magas says. “Practice what you preach.”