While many of us have become accustomed to the ease and efficiency of electronic communication methods, such practices are not always the norm with our employers.
Depending on the work setting, employers can range from the technologically savvy to the technologically inexperienced. Both the employer and employee have a responsibility to cultivate a communication style that is both comfortable and efficient.
This article aims to assist you in developing an appropriate code of interaction with your employer. This will include probing your employer’s comfort zone with various communication methods, how and when to keep lines of communication open, demonstrating professional etiquette and maintaining a healthy employer-employee relationship.
Employers will surely appreciate your collaboration in utilizing these practices.
Set the foundation
Setting a professional and respectful precedent from your first interaction with the employer is imperative. Keep your early correspondence formal and respectful. Until familiarity is established, you should address your employer using his/her formal title, i.e.: “Dr. Smith” in all manners of correspondence.
There are certain situations when in-person conversations are a must. These include, but are not limited to:
- Orientation to responsibilities and expectations of a new position.
- Having a performance review—especially if any negative feedback is being given.
- Discussing a raise or a promotion.
- Giving formal resignation from a position.
If you would like to set up a time for conversation be clear in requesting so. Let your boss know what you would like to discuss and the approximate time you’d like to dedicate to the discussion, i.e. 10 min, 30 min. This method is more appropriate than catching him or her off guard and expecting time to be made on the spot. (1)
In most scenarios, early communication will take place via in-person or telephone conversations. As time goes on and familiarity is established, your employer will grant you more responsibility and independence. At that time, there may be a shift in the frequency of your communication and in-depth conversations may no longer be necessary.
Email is the most appropriate method to communicate anything that requires a bit of explanation or organization (i.e.: a schedule or proposal), anything that is non-urgent, or any conversations that may be beneficial to have recorded for future legal purposes.
You may be reading and drafting dozens of emails per day (or more) but it is still important to proofread your emails each and every time. Here are a few tips to take into consideration when drafting an email to your employer.
- Use correct spelling and grammar.
- Write the draft, proof it, and add the recipient’s email address last before sending.
- Include a clear and succinct title in the subject line for future ease of locating the email thread.
- If you are on a group email or listserv double check the recipient/recipients to ensure you are replying appropriately.
- Have a professional email address, which may be separate from your personal email address.
- Consider a “signature” to close your emails with; this would include your name, professional degree, company name and contact information. (2)
Texting has become quite commonplace because it is, in fact, a very efficient method of communication. That being considered, you should not text your employer until prompted to do so.
The precedent set by the employer establishes what they deem an acceptable standard for the workplace. (3) You do not want to move to a level of familiarity without your superior doing so first.
After you’ve been given the “go-ahead” either by your boss initiating text conversation or by specifically requesting you contact him or her in this way, there are still certain etiquette rules I urge you to abide by.
Texting should only be utilized as a primary means of communication when it is an urgent matter. (3) This is in order to respect others’ boundaries outside of the workplace.
Watch your tone. Keep in mind that emotions and intentions are not always easily or correctly interpreted through text messaging. If the matter is of importance consider deferring to email or setting a time to speak further during a phone conversation.
Abbreviations should be used sparingly. Only use abbreviations that you are sure the other party is familiar with. Grammar is not imperative, as in say an email, but you should not have misspellings and check your autocorrect! (4)
No long messages or excessive details. Text messages should be limited to 1-3 sentences or statements. Details can always be filled in later with a follow-up email. (3)
Emojis, jokes and memes should be avoided. Texting your boss should not really be an opportunity for socializing. Incorporating the aforementioned can come across as unprofessional. If over time, your relationship and familiarity with your boss evolve to a place where this seems appropriate, then by all means reconsider.
You should not “add” or attempt to connect with your employer or superiors on any platform. If they request to connect with you, it then becomes your decision to do so. If you prefer, you can connect on only certain platforms, reserving others for your private affairs- it is okay to have boundaries! (5)
If you have to choose one platform on which to connect to employers and coworkers, this should be it. Considering that the purpose of LinkedIn is to network and establish professional connections, this is definitely appropriate. (5)
You need to decide if your content is too personal for professional sharing. If you feel obligated to accept a request from your superior, I urge you to first update your profile. Scan your profile and posts for inappropriate content and consider adjusting your privacy settings before clicking “accept.” However, even if your page seems appropriate, you can still be tagged in photos and posts by friends, which can then be viewed by others unbeknownst to you. Unfortunately, you cannot control all content on social media platforms. Anything suggestive, morally questionable or lacking integrity can seriously hinder your credibility and professional reputation. (6)
It can also be uncomfortable giving your employer access to personal information about your family, friends and relationships that are now accessible to them from your social media pages. (6)
Last, but not least, if you are connected over social media and are using any of the applications during work hours, your employer can quite easily pick up on this and may not be happy about it. (6)
Keeping in touch
If not working in direct contact with your employer on a daily basis, it is appropriate to keep in touch weekly or biweekly even if only for a progress update. Longer than a two-week period is too long and your superior may start to feel concerned or out-of-the-loop. Having regular conversation will assist in building trust and rapport; it also give the employer a chance to monitor progress and give feedback as well as provide a time for you to seek guidance and advice. (7)
You should discuss expectations with your employer to determine your method and frequency of communication. Together, decide on a method that is most convenient, whether it be in person, a phone conversation or via email and how often you should be in touch.
As you spend more time working together, try to be cognizant of your employer’s work schedule and habits. Is there a certain time of day he or she dedicates to reading emails? Or a preferred time for meetings or phone conferences? Is there a certain time frame, i.e. beginning of the week versus end of the week, which is preferred to have reviews or discussions? Becoming attuned to the boss’s preferences will only aid your ability to clarify your points and achieve productive interactions. (8)
What to avoid
You never want to badger your employer with excessive emails or texts outside of working hours. Be cautious of professional and personal boundaries (both your employer’s and your own)—especially if connecting over social media platforms . Do not solely rely on written communication forms such as email or text messaging. Certain conversations are more successful face-to-face or on the telephone, so do not be intimidated to request time for either.
Communication is key
Remember that all places of employment are different! The guidelines in this article are mostly geared toward augmenting interactions with a new employer. As you move forward in your work experience and your professional relationships evolve, so too may the ways in which you communicate (hopefully with greater comfort and ease!). Some work environments even develop to the point of having a “work family” relationship and communicate as such.
Until you find that groove, it is always better to err on the side of formality rather than becoming too familiar, too soon. Once your relationship has reached a place of familiarity though, do what feels comfortable. If you find yourself in doubt of what is acceptable, follow the boss’s lead.
Your relationship with your employer can not only affect your professional performance and advancement but your overall stress level and mental health state. Therefore, it behooves you to put in a bit of extra effort to pay attention and become attuned to your employer’s preferences. It is incumbent upon you to utilize the same style and frequency of communication to improve his or her comfort and successfully make yourself understood. (9) Excellent communication is key in having a prosperous relationship with your employer and an ideal working environment for yourself.
- Feloni, Richard. “How to Successfully Have a Difficult Conversation With Your Boss.” Business Insider. October 1, 2014. http://www.businessinsider.com/having-a-difficult-conversation-with-your-boss-2014-9.
- Gillett, Rachel. “22 email etiquette rules every professional should know.” Business Insider. August 2, 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/email-etiquette-rules-every-professional-needs-to-know-2017-7.
- White, Martha C. “If you Ever Have to Text Your Boss, Read This First.” Time. January 12, 2017 . http://time.com/money/4630736/if-you-ever-have-to-text-your-boss-read-this-first/
- Rosato, Donna. “When is it- and isn’t it- okay to text your boss.” Time. November 24, 2014. http://time.com/money/3600538/is-it-okay-to-text-my-boss/
- Hedges, Kristi. “New Rules! How Managers Can Be Friends With Employees.” Forbes. March, 31 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/03/31/new-rules-how-managers-can-be-friends-with-employees/3/#b33de74342aa
- Gottsman, Diane. “6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Friend Your Employees on Social Media.” Inc. June 21, 2016. https://www.inc.com/diane-gottsman/6-reasons-you-shouldnt-friend-your-employees-on-social-media.html
- Smith, Jacquelyn. “14 Tips for Improving Your Relationship With Your Boss.” Forbes. October 16, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/10/16/14-tips-for-improving-your-relationship-with-your-boss/2/#48330dd7297b
- White, Martha. “6 Tips for Dealing With a New Boss.” Time. September 30, 2015. http://time.com/money/4044071/dealing-with-new-boss/
- Green, Alison. “How to Talk So Your Boss Will Listen.” Business Insider. August 19, 2013. http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-effectively-communicate-with-your-boss-2013-8.