How long should you take to reply to every email?

Clare Lynch
A free video tutorial from Clare Lynch
Cambridge University writing tutor & professional copywriter
4.4 instructor rating • 11 courses • 98,005 students

Lecture description

How to respond by email in a timely and thoughtful way.

Learn more from the full course

Email Etiquette: Write More Effective Emails At Work

How to write emails that get results. How to write emails that build better working relationships.

58:31 of on-demand video • Updated November 2020

  • Write punchier, more powerful emails every time
  • Contribute to a positive workplace culture through email
  • Never write an embarrassing or ineffective email ever again
  • Save time and eliminate stress when writing your next email
  • Apply simple layout tricks to adapt your emails for readers on mobile
  • Avoid accusations of bullying, back-covering and discrimination in your emails
English How long should you take to reply to an email, and should you reply to every email? And what about hearing from others what's reasonable to expect in terms of how long you should wait for a reply? Let's take a look at expectations around response times and how those expectations are changing. The most recent research on e-mail response times from 2015 shows that 90 percent of people respond within a day or two of receiving an email that they plan to respond to. But half of responders will respond in just under an hour, and the most common response time was two minutes. And with the rise of 'always on' mobile communication expectations about email response times seem to be getting tighter. A survey on how swiftly customers expect businesses to respond to their emails found that in 2014, 80 percent of people were happy with a four hour response time. By 2015 this had been slashed to an hour. Co-workers also expect a swift reply. Over 70 percent of people expected a response from a colleague within four hours, just over 30 percent expected a response within an hour. The best rule of thumb for timely e-mailing is to put yourself in others shoes. Now all etiquette whether it's social etiquette, general business etiquette, or specifically e-mail etiquette, is about one thing. Empathy. It's about respecting people's needs and respecting their time. Here's how to be an empathetic emailer. My first tip is to think carefully about work/life balance. These days some forward thinking companies are putting limits on when employees should send and expect responses for emails, encouraging them to unplug in the evenings and at weekends for example. So expectations about when you should send and respond to emails will very much depend on your corporate culture. But even if your company doesn't have a formal email policy, if it talks the talk about work/life balance, then you and your colleagues should walk that walk in your email habits. Likewise if it talks about being a diverse and inclusive culture don't undermine those efforts with badly timed emails that, for example, don't respect people's childcare commitments. For example sending emails at midnight on a Friday even if you don't expect a response straightaway sends the message that you expect people to be online 24/7. Another tip for being an empathetic emailer is to not leave people hanging by acknowledging receipt. For example let's imagine someone sent you a document or report that you requested. If you don't acknowledge receipt they may be wondering whether the attachment got trapped in their spam filter, or worse still that what they sent you has disappointed you and hasn't met your need. So a quick "Thanks that's just the information I needed." Or "thank you that's very helpful" is polite and will put their mind at ease and let them know that you appreciate their input. Likewise let's say the shoe is on the other foot and someone's emailed you with a request for information or a question. It's polite not to leave them hanging if you can't get that information right away let them know when they can expect a response. A simple "great question - I'll get back to you with an answer tomorrow." Or "thanks for your e-mail. I'll let you know by the end of the day." will again put their minds at ease. If they need the information sooner it also gives them a chance to make alternative inquiries or to pick up the phone. If you're the person seeking a response by email it's polite, and beneficial to you, to let the other party know if you have a deadline, for example or polite "would you be able to send a report by Wednesday lunchtime?" or "let me know if you're able to provide the figures today. If not I'll see if Sarah can help". Little touches like these will help the other person prioritize their task and also minimize the chances of you having to follow up and chase. Just be careful not to appear too unreasonable or demanding. That's not good etiquette. Another way to take pressure off people is to let them know if you don't need a response. "A simple this is just for your information. No need to respond." won't don't just save them time, it will also help prevent your own inbox from getting clogged up with unnecessary replies and thank you's. And one final piece of that good advice is to be present in the room. In other words prioritize the people there with you in person over the people at the other end of your smart phone. Don't be that person who sits in a meeting sending emails. Instead put your smart phone away or if it really can't wait, let people know you need to step outside for a moment to respond to an urgent matter. Good e-mail etiquette is all about maintaining strong, positive working relationships which is good for your company and good for your career. So next time you sit down to write an email put yourself in the other person's shoes and try and do whatever's most helpful for them.