How to Write Effective HR Email Subject Lines


If you work in marketing, you will have no trouble finding advice on writing emails. If you work in HR, not so much. That’s a shame because the average HR professional sends out a lot of emails, many of them pretty high on the urgency scale. These include:

  • Cold Recruiting Pitches

  • Sensitive Emails to Healthcare Providers

  • Communications With Potential Employees

  • Policy Changes

  • Disciplinary Warnings

  • Communications Dealing With Employee Conduct

  • Offer Letters

  • Explanations of Benefits

HR staff members have to take care that their emails reflect well on the organization, communicate clearly, and stay within the bounds of any regulations that could be pertinent to their organization. One particular area, the email subject line, deserves special attention. I’ve outlined some tips on how to write effective subjects lines for your next HR related email.

Keep Privacy And Security in Mind

As an HR pro, you may send out emails discussing some pretty sensitive topics, so much so that many are using email encryption more than ever.. Privacy and security should always be at the front of your mind when composing emails. When it comes to your subject lines, it’s important to be especially careful.

Remember that subject lines can be more visible than the the body of an email. For example, someone may not be logged into their email on their phone, but still receive notifications with the content of the subject line visible to whoever is within eye shot of the phone. Depending on their settings, that content may be visible even if their phone is locked. Be discreet.

Set and Follow a Procedure For Email Urgency

The emails you send out to your employees can range from not so urgent (e.g.: an update on the next employee softball tournament) to the very urgent (e.g.: an emergency office closing). Don’t take any chances that people will underestimate the urgency of your communications.

Instead, create an email subject line policy that let’s employees know, without a doubt, when they need to open an email and act accordingly. Put the information in your employee documentation, and send out the occasional reminder.

Don’t Overuse Urgency Tags

Of course, once you have established an urgency hierarchy it’s important not to overuse urgency tags. Not only are emails from HR marked ‘Urgent!’ or ‘Open Immediately!’ a bit unsettling, they lose their impact once people realize you’re simply tagging everything like that to get quick responses.

Use Humor Judiciously

Humor is a great tool for putting people at ease. That’s something HR professionals can benefit from doing. It can make you and your department more relatable to other staff members. Humor can also make your emails, and the points within them more memorable to your recipients.

Just approach your humor with a significant amount of good judgement. Michael Coors, an HR manager at WowGrade says, “HR sets the tone of the entire organization when it comes to appropriate behavior that reflects the organization as a whole. By all means use humor, but stick with wordplay and other ‘safe’ humor. Aim for a G to PG audience.” It’s better to have your staff groan at your corny attempt at humor than to unintentionally offend.

Employ Some Marketing Techniques

The marketing team uses email to reach out to potential customers, and to sell them on your products and services. When it comes to recruiting, you are essentially selling potential hires on the benefits of working for your organization. In either case, your emails begin with one goal:get the potential customer/hire to open your email. Only then do you have a chance to persuade them. Here are some tried and true techniques for making email subject lines ‘clickable’.

  • Use a number in your email

  • Keep subject lines short so they preview correctly

  • Personalize subject lines so they don’t seem formulaic

  • Promise a Benefit Then Deliver (e.g.: Great Opportunity Inside)

  • Create a Sense of Urgency (Open Interviews End Friday!)

  • Ask a Question

  • Use Power Words

Final Thoughts

Before you rush out your next email, take some time to consider the subject line. It’s only a few words, but it really sets the tone of the entire communication. By employing a few best practices, you will be able to write effective emails that get the response you want.