We’re all guilty of it. You’re firing off a quick email and take too long to get to the point, burying the action item in a sea of workplace cliches. They’re used commonly for a reason — they’re easily understood, polite ways to say what you mean (without always saying what you really mean). But sometimes the phrases we use are just bad workplace email etiquette, inducing a few eye rolls from our coworkers at best and obscuring the real meaning of our communications at worst.
If you’re guilty of overusing some of these business email phrases, you’re not alone, but it’s time for an office jargon update. In this article, we’re calling out the 10 phrases we’d like to see less of and offering some helpful suggestions to replace them in your business email etiquette toolbox.
Work email etiquette: What it is and how to strike a professional tone
What is workplace email etiquette, anyway? Business email etiquette is the use of appropriate language in your business email communications. Why is it so important? It shows that you value and can maintain your professional integrity (and that of your company, especially important if you work at a growing tech start-up with a reputation to solidify). It also shows that you care about your professional relationship with the recipient. Sending concise and appropriate emails will help save time that could be spent going back and forth, and in general, can help build a positive working relationship.
Formal vs informal emails: What’s appropriate for your business correspondences?
There is a certain level of professionalism and formality that’s expected in any workplace, especially when corresponding with senior employees or external stakeholders. You want to make a positive impression and foster a successful working relationship, while still striking a delicate balance between conversational and professional. And of course, it’s always important to avoid grammatical errors or information that’s just plain inaccurate. All this, and you want to ensure that your business correspondents receive timely responses? It’s no wonder so many of us turn to overused cliches to help save time and easily communicate ideas.
Work email phrases to avoid and what to say instead
Avoid: Happy ___day
Usually, it’s just genuine positivity that leads you to wish everyone a happy day. Happy Monday, happy long weekend, happy almost Friday, you name it and we’ve certainly used it. Unfortunately, this opener is cliche at best and insincere at worst. Let’s be honest, no one really is happy that it’s Monday. The exception is actual holidays, like wishing your colleague a “happy end of Mercury retrograde season!” Some days deserve an extra celebration, but the 20th Monday of the year isn’t one.
Try this instead: If you’re looking to build a positive rapport and be more conversational, ditch this impersonal phrase and replace it with something individualized, like a question about a recent workshop you attended, or commentary on a podcast they’ve recommended. If nothing comes to mind, feel free to just scrap it altogether and get right to your point. Most people scan through their emails quickly and will appreciate a concise, well-written note without unnecessary fluff.
Avoid: Hope this email finds you well
This phrase has become overused to the point that it just doesn’t hold much sincerity anymore. Most recipients will scan over it without a thought or a response, which is a good sign that it’s not effective email language. There’s no call to action here, it’s just a general pleasantry that doesn’t require a response. Additionally, if it doesn’t find them well, there’s a good chance they may not be comfortable sharing why with you, anyway. What are they supposed to say? “Actually, it finds me unwell, thanks?”
Try this instead: Again, try to include something more personal to the recipient if appropriate. Personal doesn’t have to mean about their personal life. You can keep it professional and still let a colleague or client know that you listen and care about their interests or projects. If nothing comes to mind, why not save everyone time and kindly and professionally skip to the action item that you’re emailing them about?
Avoid: Sorry to bother you
Ever worked with Canadian colleagues? Some of us feel obliged to apologize for everything (including sending necessary work communications!), but it’s a sure-fire way to undermine your credibility. This is used often when emailing someone senior whose time you know is valuable, however, it’s counterproductive to waste anyone’s time having to scroll through apologies and overexplained context for your message. Also, it’s worth noting that women tend to apologize more than men, and it can reinforce the idea that they’ve done something wrong when they haven’t. There is no need to admit wrongdoing when there’s been none.
Try this instead: Lead with an action item and then follow up with broader context if necessary. “I’m emailing to kindly request ___” and then thank them for their time. A thank you is always better than an apology when you want to add an acknowledgement around an ask.
Avoid: Just checking in
Are you just checking in, or are you passive-aggressively requesting a follow-up to a deadline or email? In a 2020 study conducted by Perkbox Insights, 19 per cent of respondents listed this phrase as the most annoying email cliche.
Try this instead: Emails like this don’t provide any value and tend to clog up inboxes. If you need to remind someone of a deadline, just do that! Your follow-up email should offer some value or an actionable item, which you can even include in the subject line to catch their interest (and ensure your email will be opened).
Avoid: Per my last message
This is another sneakily passive aggressive phrase that basically means, “Can’t you read?” This was rated the second most annoying email phrase by the same Perkbox study, with 33 per cent of respondents voting it their most hated phrase.
Try this instead: Rather than point out that they missed your original point, find another way to restate your initial message, especially if you’re dealing with an external stakeholder or client and need to manage the relationship. Try “I want to emphasize the importance of ___ in this matter.” If you’re dealing with an internal colleague, perhaps a Slack message or phone call might settle the issue faster.
Avoid: Greatly appreciated
The sentiment here is good. Showing appreciation for people’s time and expertise is an excellent way to strengthen a working relationship as most people like to feel valued. We love to see it! But for many audiences, this is a too-formal phrase that can feel stuffy. Research has found that the best way to end an email is with a simple, sincere phrase.
Try this instead: “Thanks.”
Avoid: Let’s circle back
This is one that’s used often, despite being widely disliked (The Ladders dubbed it their most used and hated work phrase). Perhaps the reason it’s so widely disliked is that it implies that there is currently no time to address or solution for the problem and that there will be further meetings and emails to continue discussions about it.
Try this instead: There are a handful of different ways you can phrase this: “Let’s revisit this point later,” and so on, but they’re just saying the same thing, and often, less efficiently. We suggest setting a follow-up meeting with a problem-solving agenda so you’re only circling back once.
Avoid: Please advise
“Please advise” also makes the Perkbox study’s list of most annoying phrases, landing at number seven. The addition of the word “please” doesn’t help this hated business email phrase any. It can sound overly formal and just a bit condescending.
Try this instead: You can opt for more approachable language like, “What do you think?” or “Could you recommend”. Avoiding wordy ways of asking for help is key to a more approachable phrase in this case. This is another situation where we’d advise a quick Slack message or phone call to follow up with internal colleagues, if possible, rather than sending what can come off as a passive-aggressive email.
Avoid: Thanks in advance
We’ve already talked about the benefits of gratitude in the workplace, so why does this seemingly polite email etiquette phrase make the list? Those polled in the Perkbox survey seem to be split, with it making the top 10 most annoying workplace email cliches, yet also being voted as one of the top five acceptable email sign-offs. Perhaps the differentiating factor is that as a signature it implies, “Thanks for reading me!” while as an action item within the email body, it seems to be thanking the respondent for taking on work that they have not yet agreed to.
Try this instead: As mentioned above, don’t be shy about using this to sign off, but tread carefully when using it elsewhere in your business emails. “Thanks for considering this request” or “I’d be grateful for your help/insight” might be phrases that are met more favorably.
Okay, we get it. Email sign-offs can be tough. It’s hard to strike the right tone between a professional email closing or one of the playful (but not-so-professional) viral Gen Z email signatures. While we're laughing at the idea of signing every correspondence with “Live, laugh, and leave me alone,” it’s important to have some sort of standard sign-off that you can use with a mixed crowd, because you never know who may be copied on your next email. Stick to something that doesn't feel so insincere.
Try this instead: If you don’t know the recipient well, keep it simple with an uncontentious “Thanks” or “Regards”.
Now that you’ve digested our top suggestions for the email phrases you need to throw to the curb and some suggestions for proper email etiquette to replace them with, why not check out the best tech jobs based on your zodiac sign?