Somewhere along the way we moved from “hi” to “hey.” Have you noticed?
Back when I started in the workforce, there were no emails – wow, that sentence dates me. We used memorandums, also known as memos. I thought the younger generation didn’t know that term until Miley Cyrus referenced “memo” in one of her songs – “Party in the USA” — when observing a fashion trend (wearing stilettos), she sings, “I guess I never got the memo.”
Memos back in the day were a formal interoffice communication — in lieu of sending a letter. In fact at that time, we were all formal in the business world. We dressed in suits – there was no business casual. And, we even referred to senior management by their last name using “Mr.” (most offices I worked in did not have a senior-level female – if they did, I guess we would have used “Ms.”). For example, the head of a division was called “Mr. Champion” never by his first name “Paul.” If you work internationally, you’ll notice they maintain this formality. In the U.S., the shift to using your manager’s first name changed somewhere in the 1990’s when we moved to a team environment.
If you look at templates in Word, they still offer a template for memos – not sure who still uses memos but the template is there. Essentially, memos look like this:
Looking at the memo format, you can easily see how the format for emails evolved. When we shifted from memos to emails, most people wrote in the same formality. However, memos were used only for interoffice communication. When writing to clients or vendors, we used letters. Emails, on the other hand, allowed us to send messages to everyone – work colleagues, clients and vendors. Due to this expanded communication vehicle, emails began with the name of the recipient and ended with a signature line – similar to a letter (some individuals who may not have experienced memos use “dear” when beginning their emails). Since memos did not begin with a salutation, most business emails began with no salutation – just the person’s name.
Over the course of time, some individuals started bucking formality in the business world and began emails with a salutation – “hi.” This casual salutation works great when things are going well, but what about when there is an issue … for example,
You are 120 days past due in your payment of $3,000 to our firm. If you do not pay in full by the end of the month, you will be subject to late fees …
For that reason, some people omitted “hi” in their business emails. I was one of those individuals. My job included dealing with difficult situations – having no salutation in an email was an approach I could use consistently – in good times and in bad times.
Unfortunately with emails, it’s difficult to read tone. Using “hi” or “hello” as a salutation softened the tone. Over time, I converted to “hi” but usually gauge my response on how the sender addresses me in their email. So for those who start emails with “Hello,” my response email would begin with “Hello.”
I thought I had it figured out until someone sent me a business-related email with “Hey” …
“Hey” is the phonetic spelling of what we say when we greet someone we know — but do we use it in the business world? Is it too casual? With work and life being more integrated and less of a divide due to technology is it okay to be this casual with business colleagues? … with clients? … with vendors/suppliers?
To make it easier, I’ve stuck to my rule of thumb to follow how the sender addresses me in their email. But when I initiate an email, I generally stick to using “hi”, “hello” – and sometimes will throw in a “good morning.” I’m still uncomfortable initiating a business-related email using “hey” for someone I really don’t know.
Other changes I make to business email etiquette include if I’m communicating with the same person several times in a day, I usually drop the salutation — how many times do I need to say “hi” especially if I said it 5 minutes ago in the original email? Also with frequent emails to the same recipient, I drop writing my name at the end — the recipient knows it’s from me based on my email address and my business emails have an automatic signature line – how many times do I need to say “Best,” or “Regards”?
As we evolve with a more casual tone in business, how far do we go with our communication? Please share your thoughts about business email etiquette.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Niv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA™, CRPC®, is the Founder of Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Her firm bridges the gap between financial planning and coaching. As a Transition Consultant, she offers sage advice in all aspects of life – financial, personal and professional. Niv does not manage money and does not sell financial products. Her services include spending plan development, divorce financial review, life strategy and professional progression. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me’.”