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Three Things You Should Know About Work Emails From writing emails to reading them, science lays out the recommended email guidelines

By Vaibhav Joshi

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Alexey Boldin | Shutterstock

Emails have become an integral part of today's work culture, and most of us spend our workday either writing emails or reading them. A slight mistake can affect the terms of an important business deal or lose an influential client, which is why email writing requires a lot of skill. Not only that, an overflowing inbox can even affect an employee's mental health.

Keeping the growing menace of emails in mind, scientists have made it slightly easier to deal with them by offering up these science-backed guidelines when it comes to formal emails.

How To Write Them

Email etiquette is an essential skill for every working professional to master, which is why you should know what to include and what to leave out. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in July 2017 carried out by researchers from Israel's Ben-Gurion University, University of Haifa and Amsterdam University says smileys and other emojis are a complete no-no when it comes to formal emails.

The study involved over 549 participants from 29 different countries and the researchers came to the conclusion that although a smile reflects warmth and friendliness in person, a smiley face in an email will have the opposite effect. People who received emails with smiley faces in them actually had a lower estimation of the sender's competence and were more likely to send detailed replies to people who sent their emails smiley-free.

"For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender," said Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at BGU, in a press release.

How Regular Should You Be?

Do you find yourself glued to your desk all day, slowly sinking under a mountain of emails marked "urgent'? It seems like every time you open your inbox, there's an email there that needs your immediate attention. What's worse is the fact that you can't ignore them, because they're a necessary part of your job. So how do you keep your mental balance while ensuring that work gets done?

In a Canadian study, published in 2015 in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, 124 adults from various professions were asked to check their emails on a very specific schedule. The participants reported lower levels of stress when they looked at their work email only about five times a day rather than having free rein all day long.

"We simply asked people to check their email three times, and they managed to get it down to an average of five," said study author Kostadin Kushlev. "The optimal number of times would depend on the job and the day. I think the key is for each individual to decide, along with their boss and colleagues, what's truly necessary and what comes from compulsion and habit to check."

The researchers also asserted that this relationship isn't about numbers, but the manner in which you replied to the emails. "It's about taking control over your mailbox and not allowing it to distract you whenever somebody decided to send you an email," says Kushlev.

Log Out When You Punch Out

How many times have you finished up a hard day's work at the office only to reach home and find a pile of work emails waiting for you as soon as you open your computer? The expectation that employees will always be on-call even after hours has almost become a requirement in most companies around the world, and research suggests this mentality is taking a toll on their mental health.

Unfortunately, this manifests itself even if your inbox is miraculously free for the evening, as the mere expectation of being available 24x7 does the trick. William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, co-authored a study called "Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being' and found that such expectations result in anxiety, which adversely affects the health of employees and their families.

"The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees," Becker said, "which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives." He added, "Our research exposes the reality: 'flexible work boundaries' often turn into 'work without boundaries,' compromising an employee's and their family's health and well-being."

Vaibhav Joshi

Entrepreneur Staff

Features Writer, Entrepreneur Asia-Pacific

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