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Here’s Why Your Employees Are Ignoring Your Emails

Michael DesRochers
at PoliteMail
Aug 21, 2019

Avoid these mistakes if you want employees to read your emails.

“I never received an email about that.” You’ve heard it. You doubt it’s true, and you don’t find it amusing.

Effective corporate communication requires the sender and receiver each fulfill their side of the equation. Unfortunately, there are many more ways to ensure your people are not reading your communications than there are ways to ensure they are.

Here are seven email etiquette pitfalls you are making and how to fix them plus one parting tip that you should use as your guide when planning, writing and sending emails.

1. Emails are sent from one central mailbox

So far this morning I’ve ignored two calls from unknown numbers and taken another from a customer. With emails, the sender is the primary filter we use to decide whether a message is worthy of our attention now, later or ever.

The benefit of a shared, centralized mailbox is that everyone knows which department a message is coming from; however, when the majority of messages sent from a shared mailbox are not relevant to the recipient, even minor emails get ignored. 

Instead of an everything-under-the-sun approach, use multiple from addresses depending on the department and subject area. For example, with the HR mailbox, you might have from address fields set up like benefits@, 401k@, policy@, training@ and more. This sends a clear message to recipients regarding what the message is about, its relevance to them, and, importantly, it reduces the odds that an important message will be missed.

2. Emails are sent to everyone

Sometimes the audience is all employees, more often it’s not.  If you only have broad-based distribution groups, they will appear to be the nails you can hammer.  Broadcasts that should be narrowcasts are major contributors to feelings of email overload. If you are on the receiving end, it’s much more comfortable to ignore the blows.

Consider the differences among employees that you may have in your organization: new hires, long-term employees, employees in different roles, employees in different departments, employees with different levels of education, etc. These differences matter.

Relevancy leads attention; making your message content more relevant requires the ability to accurately target your audiences, which may require new tools.

3. Bland subject lines cause people to tune out

The subject line is the second filter (after who the sender is) that we use to decide whether we should respond to an email now, later or ever. You only get seven words to capture people’s attention or pique curiosity. 

What makes a good subject line? Try writing the subject line as an intriguing question to capture the attention of readers. Consider what matters most to your staff and what represents value to them. Making or saving money. Being productive. Doing a good job. How can your subject lines be modified to focus on piquing employee attention around these value propositions?

4. Emails are sent at inconsistent, inconvenient times

Crafting communications, getting them approved and sending them out in a timely manner is often a harried and hectic project. That sense of relief, upon finally hitting the send button, is unfortunately not an accurate indicator of the communication being done.

Sent doesn’t necessarily equate with received. A sent email message does not mean it has been widely read and understood. Office employees are busy doing their jobs, and you won’t find reading corporate communications as a bullet point on their job descriptions.

People generally process between 100 and 200 email messages per day. Where does your email message fit in? Probably not at the time you sent it, especially if you have recipients in different time zones.

Instead of sending an email on your schedule, consider sending on your employees’ schedule. At least establishing a consistent time or day for  messages allows your employees adequate time to read, digest and respond to your communications.

5. Emails are written in PR speak

A press release can be an email, but email isn’t a press release. Only PR and media pros can appreciate and translate the nuances of corporate speak. The rest of us tend to tune it out, preferring simple language in an authentic voice instead of working to parse through the jargon and acronyms. 

If the words in your email aren’t terms you typically use, don’t send the email. Instead, write your emails as you or the CEO would write them. Better yet, send a video instead of, or in addition to the text. YouTube is all the evidence you need that authenticity beats pretentious insincerity. Varying the method of your messages – between text, audio and video – can generate interest and more engagement. Mix it up.

Another important tip is to think visually about your message. Long, gray blocks of copy look like – you got it – long, gray blocks of copy … not very appealing and not likely to engage your readers. Instead, break up long paragraphs, use bullet points, bold and underlining to make your messages visually appealing.

The inbox is the corporate work processor. Because we get so much of it, it’s tempting to think you should consolidate various content into one weekly or monthly uber message full of a variety of valuable content, stories and links? Why shouldn’t you do this? Because it will get ignored.

Email overload is more about content volume rather than message volume. I can easily consume a pile of brief, focused messages. However, I get indigestion from a single, long, dense message loaded with rich topics and frosted with lavish links.

That doesn’t mean you should never use long-form content; some communications demand it. However, most don’t, but when they do, utilize plenty of white space and subheads. For the rest, keep emails under 500 words and focused on one thing.

7. Emails are not mobile-friendly

Smartphones are everywhere these days, meaning your audience is less likely to be reading your message on a desktop or laptop computer than they are to be reading it on their phone. How’s that experience going for them? Likely not well.

Try it yourself. Open one of your emails on your mobile device and consider how painful the experience of trying to read and comprehend it can be.

Creating mobile-responsive emails, like using larger font sizes, will boost the odds that your emails will be read.

Make the open rate your key metric

Just because we sent a message doesn’t mean employees read it. For most internal corporate communications, opens happen as soon as the message hits the preview window. In my experience, on average, 11% of the time people will skip the email or delete it.

Open rates are a measure of reach and only tell you the message was received. For most communications, that is not the point. Attention, readership and engagement are better indicators for data-driven communications results.

Time is the one thing everyone has the same amount of and wishes they had more of. Corporate communications teams are often overworked and understaffed. Employees might feel overloaded with email, but email remains their primary screen and preferred channel.

How do we balance both sides of the equation? Send shorter, more frequent, more focused and more targeted messages.

Image Credit:

Michael DesRochers
I'm the founder and managing partner of PoliteMail, a provider of email measurement and analytics software for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. We help internal communications teams measure the effectiveness of their emails to employees. Before founding PoliteMail, I was the founder and CEO of MicroArts, which was acquired in 2001 by Cordiant Communications Group of London for $85 million.