Business Law: A “kiss” is sometimes inappropriate, says Will Oakes

EMAILS are often seen as an informal method of communication and this can lead to staff taking a personal approach to content and style.

On any working day I will receive emails which range from the very formal “Dear Sirs…” to those which dispense with any form of greeting, preferring to launch straight into a body of text.

As for signing off, the options are even more wide-ranging. Whereas a simple “Kind regards” used to be the universal choice now emails, even sometimes in business life, are frequently ended with hugs and kisses (OXO, the Os are the hugs and the Xs the kisses, apparently).

Even the Prime Minister is confused. One of the highlights, for me at least, of the Leveson enquiry was when Rebecca Brooks confirmed that she had to tell David Cameron that LOL means “Laugh Out-Loud” (not, as he thought, using it to sign off messages to her, “Lots of Love”).

Like any business correspondence, emails should be professional at all times. But, as the examples given above demonstrate, not all employees understand what this means.

A recent survey designed to uncover what creates a bad impression in an email to a customer found that 66% hate seeing kisses on emails, 44% don’t like smiley faces or other icons, 54% find over-familiar terms of endearment, such as “honey” or “luv” unacceptable, and 50% believe slang abbreviations such as “OMG” and “LOL” should be avoided.

Informality is not the only issue. More than two-thirds of respondents reported finding simple grammatical or spelling errors “shoddy” and indicated they would leave them “having no faith in the sender”.

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However, in the absence of rules, and given the wide-ranging variety of styles that could be adopted, it’s no wonder some employees think signing off with “xxx” is acceptable.

To prevent the possibility of creating a poor business image, why not lay down some “email guidelines” for your staff? Here are some basic rules that should apply to all.

: : Use the subject line to make it crystal clear what the email is about;

: : Only use “urgent” if it really is;

: : Open professionally (Dear Sir/Mr Smith looks better than “Hey there”);

: : Check grammar and spelling (particularly names);

: : Be concise in the body of the text and try not to use slang abbreviations;

: : Answer swiftly, say within 24 hours, even if it’s just an acknowledgement;

: : End emails appropriately; and

: : Always set “out of office” responses and provide an alternative contact.

Will Oakes is a partner at Attwells Solicitors.

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