This morning I had an e-mail from a business guy asking about how and when one should use Return Receipts (RR). His inquiry was due to one of his associates making this request with every single e-mail that they sent.
Why do Return Receipts even exist?
Personally I think this feature is pretty useless being they can be easily declined. Return receipts are a way of knowing that an e-mail has been opened on the recipient’s computer. It does not however, mean the opened e-mail has been read. While your confirmation may indicate that the email was “read”, there is no way to guarantee that an e-mail has been read.
Return receipts may be useful in select and rare business communications. For example when one individual wants to confirm that a communication has been received by the recipient. Some may become annoyed at this request, feeling it is intrusive or a form of babysitting.
I see no problem depending on the situation. Such as the sending of time sensitive or legal communications. In important cases communication is key. What you do is explain to the other side that you are going to request an RR in advance to confirm their receipt due to the importance of the communication. Then nicely ask that they accept your RR to confirm they did receive your e-mail.
When Return Receipts become annoying…
In the work environment there is no expectation of privacy. If a supervisor wants to confirm you have received an e-mail, simply acknowledge your receipt and go about your business. If you feel there are reasons behind these requests, contact them to have a sit-down to discuss your concerns. Now, if a coworker is using RRs for non-critical communications, here again, ask them why. If they cannot provide a valid reason, you are under no obligation to approve each. Not withstanding any company policy to the contrary of course.
Do you communicate with someone who has this feature on for every single e-mail? Nicely e-mailing these onliners with a “Did you know…..?” informing them that this is not a feature to be used for every single casual e-mail is the best approach. Explain that RRs are more for special situations where it is important (not curious) to know an e-mail has been received. Your patience and explanation will help them understand how to better use this feature.
Know that Most RRs will be Ignored
The recipient has the right to determine when/if they want to read an e-mail and reply to it. RRs should be reserved for those instances where it is critical to knowing the e-mail was received/opened. And even then the recipient is under no obligation to accept your request.
I have RRs turned off completely. This due to the number of requests without notice, from folks I don’t know and/or for what I deem as non-critical. That said, when it is an important matter and I can understand why there is an RR requested by the other side, however, they would have to ask me to turn acceptance on in advance or I’ll never know one was requested. See what I mean? How many other folks have the same settings in place and will never see RR requests?
The bottom line? Use RRs for legal issues and important company matters where you want to have some sort of proof or “paper trail” that the e-mail was sent and subsequently opened. Notify and ask in advance if it is that important. To send an RR request for every day-to-day business e-mail, is simply not necessary (or appreciated) by recipients who do not have RRs completely turned off.