Whatever industry you’re in, email is likely a big part of your daily work and communication. And by now you know just how important tone can be. There’s always that delicate balance of friendliness and professionalism. Of elegance and creativity. Your words and punctuation say a lot about your work style and personality.
Your email sign-off matters. Phrases such as “Best regards,” “Best wishes,” “Sincerely,” “Warmly,” and simply, “Best,” are pretty standard, safe options. They sound professional without rustling any feathers or being off-putting.
Then you have “Cheers,” which can be a bit friendlier and fun, but also kind of… odd. Are we assuming that everyone’s got a hidden bottle of Jack in their desks? (Of course, this sign-off did not originate in the U.S. While both Americans and the British say “Cheers” when clinking glasses, the latter also use it as a greeting, a goodbye, and pretty much everything else.)
These considerations were pushed to the forefront when millions of people transitioned to a remote work environment over the last year. As Human Resources Talent Manager Omo Ogbomo says, “it was definitely a time when people were not doing well or looking for kind regards. I think I started using ‘Stay safe’ as a sign-off.”
No doubt it felt somewhat cold to sign off emails with a “Best” as we were all struggling to get through the pandemic, and we were assuredly not at our best. This also meant fewer emails began with the trite, “I hope this email finds you well,” since we all knew that it likely didn’t.
Perhaps moving forward, this shift means that more people will start to show more empathy and pay more attention, even in these small forms of daily communication we’ve gotten so used to.
When to use standard sign-offs and when to be more creative
This all begs the question: Why do we use the same few email sign-offs? What do we really think when we see others using them? And what would creativity look like?
Again, sticking to the standards can communicate your professionalism. This can be fine if you’re emailing a new client or applying for a job, for example.
But, say you’re sending a challenging email, like letting someone know they made a detrimental error in a report or letting a candidate know you went a different direction. A “Thanks” or “Best regards” before your name can seem sarcastic, unfeeling, or even mocking.
More creative responses will give you more flexibility to assess the tone of the rest of the email and come up with something more genuine. For instance, “Thanks for your patience,” or “Sorry not to deliver better news” can show you’re a human and you know what you just told them isn’t great. Even adding a few words to the standard phrases can be effective: “Best wishes in your future endeavors” or “Thanks for understanding, and best regards.” “Take care” can even sound a bit kinder.
Think about what you would want to hear if you were in their shoes. Consider what you really want to convey. And recognize that you don’t have to use the same set of three email sign-offs over and over again.
Read more: Learn How to Say ‘No’ Professionally
For other business emails, get creative based on your industry or work. If you’re a medical professional, try out, “Yours in wellness.” If you run your own accounting business, how about, “Your favorite accountant.” If you’re sending a more personal, casual email and want to indicate that the conversation will continue, something like “Chat soon” can be effective.
The point is to switch things up based on who you’re talking to and what you’re trying to convey. Start there before you throw in a banal “Best regards.”
Ogbomo says she loves seeing people do different things with their signatures. “Email is a ubiquitous part of the working world, and everyone handles it differently.” There’s no one right way to sign off, per se, but getting creative can really make you stand out.
Even “Cheers” has become somewhat meaningless, so we need to push a little further to come off as creative. We’re living in a time when what is standard is being questioned.
And, all of this is even more true for women
What your email sign-off says about you...as a woman
Do you write an email, then edit it to remove exclamation points and less assertive language? Women tone policing their own emails is, anecdotally, very common, and it shouldn’t be necessary, but sometimes it is. Ogbomo says it’s because women are held to different standards than men: “I’ve been training myself to ask fewer questions and make more statements in my emails. For example, ‘Does that make sense?’ vs. ‘Follow up with questions.’ I think women feel the pressure to be kind and accommodating to our own detriment at times.”
This applies to the way we sign off. One common tactic is “Thanks!” with a jolly exclamation point to show we really mean it. We’re worried that without it, we’ll sound cold or unfriendly. We want to show we have a little personality and practice empathy, and punctuation can be an easy way to accomplish that.
But, there have been many arguments over the years that professional correspondence and good writing should use exclamation points sparingly. Those stances are often taken by men who believe that exclamation points make women sound too emotional. Enter: sexism, yet again.
The truth is, women do use more exclamation points. One study showed that 73 percent of exclamation use is by women. But arguments aside, many of us just have a different way of communicating that shouldn’t be categorized as more or less professional as other styles. We’ve traditionally been socialized to be different than men, so why would our correspondence be identical?
That being said, when women start to use periods or short, to-the-point sentences, there is the assumption that something is wrong or that we’re cold or aggressive.
Herein lies the dilemma: We’re not supposed to use exclamation points emojis as professionals, yet when we don’t use them, we can come off as aggressive or unfeeling. Sometimes there’s no winning, and there’s no blanket tipping point for exclamation point usage to help you navigate that impossible problem. You’ll have to weigh sign-off usage and other “gender” indicators based on your team and industry culture and, frankly, how much you care what other people think.
Something as simple and seemingly inane as a punctuation debate says a lot about where we are with gender equality. Period.
About our source
Omo Ogbomo is a Human Resource Talent Manager who focuses on recruitment and external talent partnerships at VMLY&R. She previously held positions at Ogilvy and Target corporation. She pursued her Master of Science in Human Resources from DePaul University to further her passion for being an employee advocate. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Communication from Western Michigan University. She cares deeply about championing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the recruitment experience and supporting entry-level talent to explore their potential. Outside of work she is an avid reader, reality television aficionado, and amateur foodie. She currently resides in Chicago, IL.