Is email etiquette important among Generation Z?

By Dr. Jong Ling

We have read of late in social media that employers are left speechless whenever they receive ‘rude’ emails from fresh graduates applying for jobs.

This phenomenon is getting more prevalent, making us wonder whether youngsters nowadays know how to write proper emails. Sometimes, the emails I receive from students leave me at a loss for words. They would write to me as if they are my bosses and instruct me to do things, for example, “I want you to open the reserved class because other tutorials don’t fit my timetable”, “I want the solutions for the textbook exercise questions” or “I want to meet you later at 12pm”.

My lecturer friends in other universities tell me that they often receive similar emails. Oftentimes, we find ourselves discussing not only how to respond to our students’ emails professionally, but also how frequently we receive inappropriate content in students’ emails. Some students never use the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in their emails, and there is often no greeting at all.

We have noticed that students like to demand prompt replies from lecturers, but they never say thank you after we have answered their inquiries. A lecturer lamented that her students treat her like a ‘24-hour customer service hotline’ and would compel her to respond to their inquiries on weekends by sending repeated reminder emails.

We regard such attitudes and behaviour as incivility. Burke et al. (2013) conducted a review of literature on student incivility in higher education, and highlighted several factors causing student incivility. Consumerism is one factor, where students view universities as service providers that owe them something in return for their tuition fees. Instead of being responsible for their own learning, some students expect lecturers to take on that responsibility. Consumer-oriented students believe that they are entitled to behave as they wish (including being impolite) because they, the customers, are always right (Nordstrom et al., 2009).

Impoliteness may not be a problem unique to students. An earlier study by Boice (1996) documented that lecturers’ lack of ‘immediacy behaviors’, i.e. showing approachability and care, can also be a factor when it comes to student incivility. Clark and Springer (2007) also contended that lecturers’ arrogance and lack of responsiveness can cause student incivility.

Students may lose patience and write rude emails when they fail to receive favorable replies from lecturers within their expected timeframe. In this case, lecturers may have to reflect on their teaching style and responsiveness in replying emails when they observe aggressiveness in their students’ emails.

The situation today is vastly different from past decades when people in the past decades who relied on emails as an important communication tool and cared about proper email courtesy. The Generation Z have far more options in communication and tend to be rather informal in writing. I find that students nowadays treat emails like chat functions such as Whatapp and Wechat and sometimes wonder if it is too rigid of us to request the Generation Z adopt basic email etiquette?

Students may lack of email etiquette due to uncertainty about how to formulate a professional email. However, from our professional perspective, we academics think that emails still play a vital role in our daily lives, especially in our careers. Proper email etiquette helps us make a favourable impression on potential employers or supervisors. If you are an entrepreneur, email etiquette is important to give your clients or customers a good impression of you and your business. Impoliteness and the use of an overly informal style in email correspondence, including the absence of proper greetings and multiple exclamation and question marks, can quickly change the receiver’s perception of the sender.

Dr. Jong Ling is a lecturer in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Business. She holds a PhD from Curtin University and is an associate member of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA). In addition to being an award-winning lecturer, winning Curtin Malaysia’s Student’s Choice Award in 2019 and 2021, she is an active researcher with research interests in corporate governance, family firms, executive remuneration, corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability and panel data analysis. She has published a number of journal articles in ABDC-indexed journals. Dr. Jong Ling may be contacted by email to