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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

How respectful are you in your personal and work electronic communications?

The average corporate worker spends nearly 25 per cent of their day dealing with e-mail-related tasks. This doesn’t include the 32 texts they send and receive every day.

It’s possible some of us may not be paying attention to how our behaviour impacts others. Some have developed conscious or unconscious strategies to cope with the sheer volume of communications they receive, such as only responding to short ones, skipping or putting off longer ones that take more energy to read or, depending on who the communication is from, simply never responding. Interestingly, electronic communications have grown without a universal etiquette game book that guides how to promote civility electronically.

How you cope may be working for you, but it may be a sign of disrespect to the person who sent the communication. Ultimately, the question is, do you care what others think and feel?

This micro skill explores whether others could benefit from you improving your electronic etiquette.


One approach that appears to be becoming more accepted and common is simply ignoring e-mails and texts from people we know. One common excuse used is “I am simply too busy to respond to all my e-mails.”

One can argue whether the above decision is done intentionally or unintentionally. But it really doesn’t matter to the person who sent the communication. It’s plausible that they may feel ignored or rejected.

Although we’re all busy, we can still slow down and focus on what’s most important to us. An e-mail or text from one person may get more attention than from another. How long we take to respond is another sign – intentional or not – of their perceived value to us.

Trust is the foundation human relationships are built on, and a key component is feeling respected.

Evaluate the value your electronic communications etiquette on a scale of one to 10. When most of us send an e-mail or text we hope the receiver puts a high value of importance on it, so that we get a timely response.


Improving electronic communications etiquette begins with simply acknowledging that your behaviour may be negatively impacting another person.

A little humility can go a long way, because it can allow you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Whether the person is the CEO, they’re someone who’s asking or communicating something that likely is important to them.

If electronic communications etiquette has been of low importance to you, changing this perception can change how others view you, especially those whom you’ve delayed responding to or ignored in the past.

Providing timely responses helps show others that it is professionally responsible, as it shows respect and helps others get the information they need to do their jobs.


One way to positively improve electronic communication etiquette is to adopt some strategies:

  • Commit – Responding in a timely manner to people creates a respectful mindset. If you send a message to someone you value, you would want or expect a timely response from them.
  • Set boundary – Personal and professional communications imply that you know the person directly or know who they are. If you don’t know the person or understand the context of their communication, like spam, it’s okay to ignore.
  • Check in – One way to see how you’re doing with your responsiveness is to ask people when you’re talking to them. Feedback is helpful, provided you’re open and interested in others’ experiences.
  • Recognize sender – If you get an e-mail or text that you don’t have time to respond to, simply acknowledge their communication and say you’ll respond later. It only takes a few seconds to say, “Got your message; will get back to you by the end of the week.”
  • Educate others on your response window – If you’re struggling with e-mail and trying to keep up, let others know your goal is to respond to all e-mails within 72 hours. If you don’t respond, ask the person to prompt you, as it may have gotten lost. Most people will understand if you’re transparent and they know you’re trying.
  • Say sorry when appropriate – You don’t have to be perfect. If you slip, acknowledge it and say, “Sorry.” Avoid making an excuse; own it and commit to doing better.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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