Careers

6 mistakes you should never make in a work email

Glenn, character on NBC's "Superstore," often has to correct mistakes made by his employees, including improper communication.
Tyler Golden/NBC
Glenn, character on NBC's "Superstore," often has to correct mistakes made by his employees, including improper communication.

So much day-to-day communication at work happens via email on or apps like Google Hangouts or Slack.

Yet most employees never receive formal training in email writing, because it's just like communicating in person, right?

Not really.

A CEO of a $16 billion business says that the way you write emails could help or hinder your career.

CNBC asked several career experts to share their biggest do's and don'ts of email writing. Here are their top rules:

1. Don't hit 'send' when you're emotional

You may feel sorely tempted, at times of peak frustration, to fire off something quick and furious. But avoid that kind of email: It could come back to haunt you.

"Do not email when you're angry, hungry or tired," says Stefanie Ziev, executive and life coach. "Check in with your mental state and mindset before you press 'send.'"

Get up from your desk, take a deep breath or even a walk to make sure you're in the right mental state, says Kathy Caprino, career coach and leadership expert at Brave Up.

"Never react harshly in the moment," Caprino says. "Don't send an angry email as a knee-jerk reaction. You'll regret it."

2. Don't ramble

Time is money, so make life a little richer for your boss or coworker.

"Never 'bury the lead,'" says Robert Hellmann, president of Hellmann Career Consulting. "Get right to the point in business writing."

In other words, put the most important information at the top of the email.

To avoid rambling, write a draft of your email and then edit it, experts suggest. Emails that are more than one or two short paragraphs are generally too long.

"No one has time to read your long letter full of big dense paragraphs," Hellmann says.

"Get right to the point in business writing." -Robert Hellmann, president of Hellmann Career Consulting

3. Don't conduct personal business

This one comes down to a simple rule that applies to nearly every single workplace: Company time and property should only be used for company work.

"Never conduct your own personal business using the company's email," says Juliet Murphy, CEO of Juliet Murphy Career Development.

"This is unethical and can also be grounds for termination," Murphy adds.

4. Don't gossip

Gossip at work, whether in person or via email, is not only unprofessional, it could get you fired, experts say.

"Negative remarks about the company, colleagues, bosses or the business in general have no place in work emails," says Joan Kuhl, founder and president of Why Millennials Matter.

It's an important rule to follow "because you are not able to control how an email gets circulated after you have sent it," Murphy says.

5. Don't joke

We all appreciate a sense of humor at work, but remember that emails leave a lot of room for misinterpretation.

"There are certain types of messages that do not translate well in email," says Rachel Beohm coach and trainer at FORTE, a non-verbal communication coaching firm.

"Sarcasm can be misunderstood even in person, yet over email, without the use of eye contact and voice tone, it is even more likely to be lost," Beohm adds.

Moreover, trying to be funny can get you into serious legal trouble.

"Don't write anything derogatory against a person's religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation," Murphy says. "They are inappropriate and can expose the company to lawsuits or other EEOC issues, and could also put your job in jeopardy."

6. Don't criticize

"Never criticize or call out another person in email, especially when it's a group email," career coach Maggie Mistal says.

Sensitive situations are most often better handled in person, unless you feel you need an electronic record of the communication. If that's the case, you can always send a follow up email reiterating what was discussed, experts say.

"Never try to solve a touchy interpersonal problem just by email," Hellmann says.

Above all, experts agree that using "the headline rule" is very helpful: If your email appeared as the headline of a major newspaper tomorrow, would you feel comfortable? If not, don't hit 'send.'