Email can be an informal method of communication, but sometimes senders take it a little too far. For example, I routinely get emails from people I’ve never met that start with “Hey Steph.” My family, friends, and colleagues call me Steph, but a stranger shouldn’t be so quick to be familiar. And “Hey”? I don’t mean to sound uptight, but the whole greeting is kind of annoying.
Turns out I’m not the only one who feels that way. Perkbox Insights, an employee experience platform, recently conducted a new study of 1,928 employed adults to find out which greetings and closings annoy them most, and “Hey” tops the list. Other irritating openings include “Happy Friday” and “To whom it may concern,” which sounds vague but formal.
Greeting your recipient
The perfect work email, according to the study, starts with “Hi.” Other welcome greetings include “Good morning or afternoon,” “Hello,” and “Dear.”
Starting with “Hi” conveys that the sender is happy to interact with the recipient and wants to start off in a positive manner, says Jill Panté, director of the Lerner College Career Services Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.
But starting with “Hey,” especially if a name isn’t included, will quickly annoy. “Please don’t address me as ‘Hey,'” says Panté. “I have a name, so please research that before sending me an email.”
Simply using her name followed by a comma or colon, however, makes Panté uneasy. “It feels like being called to the principal’s office because I’m in trouble,” she says. “That may not be what the writer is intending, but it’s how I personally interpret it. It feels less personal and more transactional because it’s always followed by an ask or request. There is little to no small talk in the email, such as ‘Hope you had a nice weekend,’ and building a relationship doesn’t seem as important.”
“It is helpful to know your audience and create a message that is appropriate,” says Laura Persky, associate dean of the School of Professional Studies at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. “I recommend trying to match the tone or style of the person to whom you are writing if you can.”
How to sign off
The best way to sign off your email, according to the study, is with “Kind Regards.” Other good choices are “Thanks” or “Regards.” The worst work email sign-offs are “Love,” “Warmly,” “Cheers,” and “Best.”
Rachel Loock, associate director of executive MBA career coaching, programming, and outreach for the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Park, Maryland, also cautions against using “Warmly” or “Warm regards.”
“The email’s content may have nothing to do with people who are considered warm,” she says. “And ‘Cheers’ is only acceptable if you are British, Australian, or offering to buy the recipient a drink later.”
She adds that ending an email with “Thanks in advance” is presumptuous: “It makes the assumption that someone is going to fulfill the request that you’ve asked for in your email,” says Loock.
If your email has a large amount of information, it can be a good idea to reflect that in your closing, suggests Panté. “For these more complicated emails, I typically will write something in closing like ‘I hope this makes sense to you and I’m explaining myself appropriately. If you have any questions or feel a phone call would be better, please let me know,'” she says. “In closing an email, don’t forget to convey your appreciation for the person and the help they provided. It’s always nice to get to an end of an email to see that the person writing it took the time to acknowledge your hard work.”
Don’t skip the niceties
The potential of annoying your recipient might scare you into skipping the greeting or closing, but erring on the side of caution can backfire. More than half of the study participants said not greeting the recipient is the worst way to start an email, and 44% of people state that no sign-off is the worst.
If you don’t sign your email, Panté says the reader might assume you’re lazy, don’t know how to set up an email signature, or don’t have the care or respect to consider that it would be helpful to the reader to know who you are.
“Emails are easily shared,” says Persky. “It is important to put in the effort to create a professional, well-written, and proofread communication as you never know who will end up seeing it.”