The Worst Work E-Mails You Can Receive, in Order

Photograph by Corbis

Work e-mails are the bane of many professional lives, so much so that Germany is considering banning them outside regular hours. It’s not hard to see why. Work e-mails are intrusive. They’re sometimes nonsensical. They accumulate at a relentless pace, resulting in a “desolate wasteland of unanswered messages that continue to appear like a never-ending game of Tetris,” a New York Times blogger once wrote.

It’s not just the volume of e-mails that gets workers down. Certain types of e-mails induce near-universal griping, according to a survey by mobile app MailTime, which has created a smartphone e-mail solution. The company asked 1,000 U.S. professionals from 18 to 56 years old what they hate most about their colleagues’ messages. In descending order of rage-inducement, the following offenses stood out:

Of those surveyed, 93 percent disapproved of e-mails they said were “insensitive” in tone. For an example, see the time Atlanta Hawks’ former general manager, Danny Ferry, e-mailed racially inflammatory remarks about black fans.

Pseudo spam
Best to stay silent about your fundraising drive announcements, company-wide reminders about copier toner, and free passes to your standup comedy gig tonight. E-mails that were not personally addressed were frowned on by 88 percent of respondents.

“Reply All” blunders
E-mails that have numerous replies were called out by 87 percent of those surveyed. A Bank of New York Mellon e-mail snafu in 2012 left  hundreds of traders and money managers hit with unwanted “unsubscribe” requests.

Random announcements
The inverse of the unwanted reply is the person who includes way too many people on their initial missive. When a BuzzFeed reporter accidentally e-mailed the entire company about the lack of hot water in his apartment, hilarity—and gif-based joshing—ensued. Your colleagues might not be so amused. E-mails that have numerous recipients got 82 percent disapproval.

E-mails that are too long were hated by 81 percent of people. But what choice do you have if you want to convey really critical points? People have to read a meeting agenda as long as Homer’s Odyssey if it says ”Important,” right? Nope. According to the survey, nearly one in five people won’t read an e-mail word-for-word if it’s longer than one paragraph. A dedicated—or very bored—10 percent say they’ll stick it out to the bitter end when an e-mail is longer than seven paragraphs.

It’s advisable to take the survey with a grain of salt because the company conducting is creating an app that’s meant to improve how we respond to work e-mails. For what it’s worth, we could all use a little help with e-mail etiquette–especially if, by the Atlantic‘s estimates, we’re spending 650 hours a year working our way through them.