do I have to send “read receipts” when emails request them?

A reader writes:

I have an administrator above me who uses read receipts with almost every email. I always send one back since they are requesting it. If I don’t send a receipt back is it considered rude/unprofessional?

No. Read receipts are annoying and you’re under no obligation to play along.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree. That person usually doesn’t need to know when I opened that email message. My business, not theirs.

    2. Jessa*

      Nope, hate em. Never send em back unless it’s really some kind of special legal thing that needs a specific paper trail that is in my personal benefit to promote. And in that case I’m more likely just to immediately respond to the email.

  1. Sabrina*

    I send them if they hit Reply to All and send something to the entire department/company that only needed to go to the sender. I figure the landslide of receipts is their idiot fee for not only hitting Reply to All, but having read receipts defaulted.

  2. De Minimis*

    There have been a couple of people in my office who do this with every e-mail, my mail program gives me the option of no longer asking me about receipts, so that’s what I’ve done.

    For the first few weeks I sent receipts, until I realized they did it with every single e-mail.

      1. Ed*

        This is always my concern when I consider enabling that option which is why I individually say no each time.

        1. De Minimis*

          I actually don’t care if it sends them as long as it doesn’t stop everything to ask me about it each time.

      2. Jessa*

        Actually the email programme I use allows me to opt out from the programme, it will not respond to anything without my permission. My firewall will also not allow an outgoing receipt without my prior okay.

        NO system should allow anything going outbound without the permission of the person purportedly sending it. Ever. That’s terrible security.

  3. LisaLyn*

    I hate those. I suspect the guy in my department who does it is trying to see how fast (or if) people read his email because he thinks we all secretly ignore/hate him. He’s trying his best to make that true.

      1. LisaLyn*

        I have no idea. Everybody has been really nice to him and honestly, we actually do all like him. He has just gotten to the point where he tries too hard.

    1. pidgeonpenelope*

      I had a coworker who had read receipt requests and I suspect he did that because he was the Eeyore of the office. The Eeyore attitude eventually got him term’d.

  4. Elizabeth West*

    I send them for a certain email we send to customers–we want to make sure they got the information in it. But that’s it.

      1. Tina*

        Exactly, Mena! Just because someone opened it, doesn’t mean they’re going to read or respond to it any faster.

        1. Anonymous*

          But sometimes, for legal reasons, you just need to establish that they opened it. That means it was received.

          1. greenlily*

            Yes. I work for a college, and we often need to prove that we made a ‘reasonable effort’ to notify a student of a particular piece of information. When the student opens the e-mail and sends the receipt, we print that out and stick it in their file, so if they come back to us and say “I didn’t know about this! You can’t hold me to it!” we can show them the read receipt.

            Of course, we do have a few students who actually bother to read the little pop-up window that says they can decline to send a receipt. If we send out an e-mail and don’t get a receipt, we keep an eye on that student because historically that means there’s a good chance they’re a “I didn’t know about this so now I don’t have to do it” type.

            1. Jessa*

              One would think at that point, either a snail letter or a phone call follow up if the “must do” is important enough, would occur.

      2. myswtghst*

        And vice versa. If you looked at my Outlook, you’d see 765 “unread” messages. I’ve read / skimmed most of them, but don’t mark them as read until I reply or file them away.

  5. Escritora*

    I reserve that for the nuclear option, and I even explain in the email why I’m using it. It really should only be used when it’s absolutely necessary that everyone pay attention to the details of a particular email, and when it’s absolutely clear that their hide is on the line if they don’t–we could get sued, you could get fired, that sort of thing. The rarity of the request alone is usually enough to get their attention.

    1. LT*

      How does that work? The “send receipt” dialogue box pops up in front of the email message, and I assume most people clear the dialogue box before they get to read your explanation in the email…

      1. Escritora*

        I include it in the subject line. The fact that I sent one at at all is attention-grabbing in itself, so they pay attention to every facet, including the subject line.

        When they open the email, I instruct them to send the reply, so even if they declined they still know to answer, and I facetiously threatened a pop-quiz if there’s no response. I helpfully CC’d a few managers as well, Not kidding about it being a nuclear option; I needed to make sure that pleading ignorance was not on the table.

        1. k*

          Maybe it’s just me but I get a really unprofessional vibe from that. “Read my e-mail or I’m going to quiz you on the contents!!”

          If I open your e-mail, I will read it. I’m not paid to sit here and ignore e-mails or concerns.

          1. Escritora*

            It might be seen that way if *you* did it, but I have a friendly reputation and these folks know me, so I can get away with the pop-quiz, and again, it’s a nuclear option.

            Plus, did you notice the part where I said, “We can get sued?” Yeah, not kidding. The matter was important, and the reason I used the receipt in the first place was because our dept. head mentioned that there was an important slip-up earlier, where people from a different shift claimed to be unaware of an issue two of us from another shift had raised. So, in this instance, the colleagues had no right to be offended. They could get offended if they chose (they didn’t), but I was under no obligation to care.

            I needed to 1) Make absolutely certain there was no slip up this time (it would have been a very public mistake with public repercussions), 2) Give them no way to deny responsibility for the slip-up if it occurred 3) Ensure that the dept. head knew that I had done my due diligence.

  6. Ed*

    I tend to see them more from certain positions like controllers, auditors, etc. I only accept them when my direct manager uses them, which is never because he knows they’re stupid. Anyone else automatically doesn’t get them, just out of principle.

  7. Lynn*

    I actually use them occasionally as an administrative assistant when sending important information to those who are notorious for absentmindedness when it comes to email. In those cases, however, I tell myself they’ve earned the annoyance.

  8. EJ*

    I would add a caveat to AAM’s response…if you disable read receipts or do not send them, when you have been previously, your manager may think you’re not receiving the email or may ask you why you’ve stopped. Be prepared to explain.

    1. Elsie*

      To dovetail onto this, it could also be you are getting them in particular because you’re perceived as not responding in a timely manner. I know I request them for people who do not typically respond, or when it’s particularly time-sensitive so I can follow up at the appropriate interval. (E.g., if I know you’ve read it, I’ll give you a bit more time to respond since I know it’s on your radar.) Honestly, I would only do this internally, though.

  9. Jubilance*

    I’ve only done it when a compliance-type email was sent from HQ & I was forced to send a read receipt as verification that I’d received a new policy. If its just from a coworker, its annoying & I never send them.

  10. KayDay*

    I always send them back if they are requested, and I actually do think it’s rude not to. If someone is seriously abusing them, just ask them if the read receipts are really necessary, if they still won’t stop requesting them needlessly then I think it’s okay to stop sending them.

    However, sometimes people send them because they really are required to have proof that you actually got the message they send (e.g. the receivables person sending a notice to a vendor, someone with a psycho supervisor, etc.), so not sending them is really making the wrong person’s life difficult.

  11. Sophie*

    Like Lynn, I’m in an administrative role and I use read receipts occasionally and usually only for when people seem to refuse to confirm details. I work in executive recruiting, so it’s essential, for example, that candidates confirm they can attend an in-person meeting with the client at the given time and place. But those who don’t want to respond to me usually find a way to avoid sending out the read receipts. Oh well! But I would say that it’s a bit obnoxious for someone to send it out for every email. Sorry to hear it, OP!

  12. Allison (not AAM!)*

    I never send them. I actually keep my Outlook set up to “Never send read receipts”.

      1. tcookson*

        Me, too (to both hating them passionately and keeping my Outlook sent to never send them). We had a receptionist who was paranoid that people were purposely trying to undermine her work and she started using read receipts on every email that she sent. That got old really fast, and pretty much everyone in the office set their email to never send a receipt. I have never gone back, and don’t foresee ever doing so.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    I think there’s probably a near 100% correlation between people who request read receipts and people who micromanage.

    1. Cat*

      That and flagging every single e-mail, no matter how mundane, with that stupid red exclamation point.

      1. Anonymous*

        What do you think about flagging something as low importance? I’ll do this occasionally when sending someone an FYI item or something that is low urgency and can be dealt with at a later date. But it still shows up as a flag…I’m never sure if it is helpful or not.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t really use them to prioritize my life, but it doesn’t bother me; the orange exclamation point only does because it implies I should be dropping everything to deal with whatever the (invariably non-urgent) matter is. And if the matter truly was urgent, that wouldn’t bother me either!

      2. LCL*

        Yes! And in my group, it was the same person who used a red font, and an exclamation point in every header. I finally had to tell them to knock it off, that emails from anyone in my group were automatically my first priority.

      3. tcookson*

        I hate that, too! There is one person in my department who does this, and one time, in irritation, I started replying to her “High Importance” exclamation-flagged emails with a “Low Importance” down-arrow-flagged email. I did that once, realized I was being pretty passive aggressive, and didn’t do it again. But it did feel pretty good to do it, that one time.

        1. Trillian*

          It took me a while to get resensitized to the flag having meaning after working at a company where every single press release and self-laudatory bulletin that issued from Corporate Communications came into our inbox flagged “High Importance”.

      4. WorkingMom*

        I have an associate who sends every single email with the “high priority” flag, and also begins the subject of every single email with “URGENT:” It’s incredibly annoying. My perspective is – if every email you send is that urgent – the following statement applies: “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

    2. doreen*

      Not necessarily. I request read receipts basically in two situations.
      1 As the electronic version of ” here, sign this to acknowledge receipt” of a memo regarding a change in policy or procedure
      2 With staff who have a history of claiming that they haven’t read the email I sent them two weeks ago and that’s why they missed the meeting etc. I don’t like keeping track of return receipts- I’d much rather people either read their email every day or at least didn’t use not reading it as an excuse.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        See, in that second example, I think I would address the fact that they missed the meeting. It’s their responsibility to ensure they read the email and attend the meeting. So the receipt won’t do that much good.

      2. Allison (not AAM!)*

        2 Is when I use the meeting maker – it goes on their calendar AND they get a reminder pop-up 15 minutes before the event… :-)

        1. doreen*

          Yes, I have to address the fact that they missed the meeting. But I also want to address the fact that they were instructed to read their email at least once a day and aren’t doing so.The absence of the receipt lets me know about and address that issue. Sending an meeting invitation on Outlook doesn’t do any good if the person doesn’t open Outlook for days at a time- and yes, that is not unheard of.

      3. abby*

        I agree with Katie the Fed on the point 2.

        Regarding point 1, if it’s something important like a change in policy or procedure, I don’t think I would leave that up to an email. I would do this in person and get an actual signature.

        1. tcookson*

          I agree. On point 1, if they’re missing meetings and people are irritated with them or they’re in trouble with the PTB over it, then that’s their misfortune for not reading their email (I’m an admin, so I just let them get in trouble with the PTB if that’s how infrequently they’re going to check their email). If I were in a position in authority over them, I would address the missing of meetings and leave them to figure out that if the meetings come by email, they jolly well should check email.

          For point 2, if it’s important enough to need acknowledgement of receipt, then it’s too important for email, and I would collect signatures.

          I do use outlook to send meeting requests, because that lets me see who has and has not responded to the meeting, and it also puts the reminder on their calendars. But having done that, I am NOT going to babysit anybody regarding whether they actually manage to pull themselves together and come to the meeting.

          1. tcookson*

            . . . Except my boss. I will babysit him regarding whether he attends meetings. But that’s it. Everyone else is on their own.

          2. doreen*

            I really regret saying “meetings etc” because it’s not only meeting information they miss by not reading email for days on end. Sometimes it’s instructions that will get me or them sued if not followed. My choices are to either request a return receipt for some of the more important emails or call them every time I send an email to make sure it’s opened – which in my opinion is more annoying than requesting a return receipt. I don’t ask for return receipts from everyone, just a couple of people who truly don’t read their email on a daily basis. And if it annoys them , it’s easy enough for them to get me to stop- all they have to do is read their email every day.

  14. Anonymous*

    I am required to use them when sending purchase orders via e-mail. It’s the modern equivalent of the confirmation fax sheet. However, we don’t use them for anything other than purchase orders.

  15. Coelura*

    I use the preview pane in Outlook. One of the advantages is that when I know that people send read receipt requests, I just read their email in the preview pane (ergo, it doesn’t send a read receipt) and then delete the mail if it doesn’t require anything out of me. Slightly evil, I suppose, but worth it if they do it a lot.

  16. Anonymous*

    I set outlook to never send. We have 2 supervisors at my org who have their email set up to automatically do this every time. We used to have a third but after feeling like I had a good enough rapport with her I talked her out of doing it and instead asking for people to respond to the email when it was needed. (I’m not a supervisor but I am seen as tech person that people can talk to and have a pseudo consultant role.) One is retiring soon. And now I only have one person to go. They make the entire organization look unprofessional imo, especially when you get a request for things like “Ok”.
    I’m trying to make the world a slightly less annoying place. One read-receipt spammer at a time!

  17. DJLongstride*

    Until recently, one of my teammates requested a read receipt for every email, and he sends A LOT of email.

    The best advice I found for dealing with it is:
    – Set Outlook to not mark as read in the Reading Pane
    – Add a “Receipt Requested” column in your Inbox so you’ll know before opening
    – Read the email in the Reading Pane, then delete
    – The recipient will receive a response that the email was deleted without being unread

    After I generated a dozen or so of those, he turned off the read receipts.

    1. DJLongstride*

      Gah, that last bullet has all kinds of booch. It should read:

      “The SENDER will receive a response that the email was deleted without being READ”

  18. evilintraining*

    I work for a commercial debt collection agency, and I request them when I want to know that a debtor saw my email. They may be “annoying,” but sometimes there’s a legitimate reason for requesting them.

    1. fposte*

      Does their unreliability not matter, though? People can read emails without your getting a receipt, and you can get emails without people having read the email.

      1. Rana*

        That’s an excellent point. Some of the business email programs I’ve used over the years include them, but I don’t have them on my own computer. So if anyone’s sending me something with a “receipt requested” attached, I have no clue, and no way to send that sort of acknowledgment.

        (I do occasionally get a “high priority” flag, so I know my email program has that capacity, but those are pretty rare.)

  19. rw*

    I don’t use the included “read receipts” for most emails but I do ask for replies to the effect of “I have read and understand ABC – ” for time-sensitive legal documents. If a person doesn’t respond, I deliver a paper copy to them (desk if here, priority mail if not). All of the failures to respond have been technical issues so far, thankfully.

    1. Sophie*

      Yes! I am a lawyer and request read receipts for legal communication that I need to know has been received, otherwise there will be hell to pay.

      1. Jen*

        Yes – my work is legal related govt. and I request read reciepts when doing internal auditor type tesearch… with certain departments who tend to not reply. grrr!

  20. AH*

    Argggggg at my old job, I worked with a teacher who would send BOTH of the options: that it got to my mailbox and that I’d read it. I only use them sparingly and in situations where I REALLY need to know that the email was seen.

  21. Claire*

    Hate those! I’ll send one if it’s an occasional thing and they specifically requested it for just this email, but if I get one with every message, nope.

  22. Wilton Businessman*

    “Oh gee, I had to send a return receipt, I better pay attention to this message” said nobody ever.

  23. Gobbledigook*

    I think the only e-mail I would ever use a read receipt for would be an e-mail firing someone or hiring someone and really, I can talk face to face to do those things

        1. Gobbledigook*

          The only scenario in which you could would be if an employee goes to6tally AWOL for weeks and you cannot even contact them by phone.

  24. S.A.*

    At my last job, I put them as standard on every e-mail I sent because I knew I’d never remember to set them individually for e-mails I wanted to send them on and just defaulted to all. Originally, that was for sending e-mails to case managers informing them of changes pertaining to their client- if it came back deleted-unread, I printed that and a copy of the original e-mail and put it in the client’s file- if we were audited and/or payment was denied because we supposedly never informed a CM about changes, I could prove that we did in fact try to contact the CM but the CM ignored it.

    Then, it got REALLY helpful because my boss stopped sending read receipts (he told me was going to but then never told me NOT to do it, so I would assume he knew my reasoning about the CM’s) but would reply to the ones he actually DID read. So, I could tell what info he actually bothered to read and which he didn’t. I could then say, “I really did ask you- twice- if we could go to that training session; you just didn’t respond to my e-mail.”

    1. Elise*

      That doesn’t mean he client ignored it. Or even that they used the viewing plane to read and then delete it. Deleted-unread is the same thing you will get if your email ends up in their spam folder.

  25. Nodumbunny*

    I don’t like them either (and never send them), but if it were “an administrator above me”? I’d think twice about whether that was a fight worth picking.

  26. jesicka309*

    We use read receipts at my work when sending time sensitive emails to a shared address. We need to know asap that someone have received (and will therefore action) the email. If we don’t receive a read receipt in a timely manner, we call and make sure someone has actioend the email. If the read receipt was read, but not actioned, we know who opened and read the email, and can follow up accordingly.
    They are useful in that respect. Otherwise, it’s just passive aggressive.

  27. Andrea*

    A woman on my team would send these to me. WTF?! Oh yes, trying to keep track of what your manager reads, that’s a great career move. It is so obnoxious on so many levels. This is coming from an employee that didn’t do her work and tried to insinuate that I didn’t do mine if I didn’t send these back.

    She was demoted 10 months later.

    1. tcookson*

      That’s how a former receptionist of ours was — she would insinuate that anyone who didn’t send a receipt back was slacking off on their email-reading duties and therefore not doing their job. She ended up being demoted from a short-lived promotion and subsequently fired, all in under a year.

  28. Christine*

    I had an extremely unprofessional supplier chastise ME (the buyer whose business was 30% of her company’s revenue) for not responding quickly enough to an email she’d gotten a read receipt for but hadn’t recieved a reply on, a couple hours after she sent it. All I remember is that she needed something urgently that wasn’t a very high priority for me, and that was how she chose to address it. (?????) I have had read receipts turned off ever since. I don’t feel that I owe anyone a response simply because they chose to send me an email.

    1. plain jane*

      I’ve used Read Receipts on emails to clients when I’ve requested something 2-3 times via email over the period of a couple of days and it is getting close to impacting timelines. Since I do it so rarely, they seem to notice and reply when I have it on – though I rarely get the read receipt itself. :)

      In one of my very first solo projects I had a client who had email issues and gave very negative feedback about how I didn’t communicate (because they never received my emails, but I never got bounces). So I’m perhaps more sensitive to this possibility than I would be otherwise.

  29. glennis*

    In my business, I make an email “receipt requested” when the subject is something critical – like a final request for payment before cancelling the service that someone has requested but not made good on.

    That’s the ONLY thing I use it for.

    1. pidgeonpenelope*

      I take it back slightly. I did have read receipt requests when the legal dept emailed me. I thought that was ok.

  30. BCW*

    I think its rude to not send them if requested. There are times when they are necessary (even if its just to cover your own ass). They are annoying, but they take up a half second of your time. If someone has it set up for every email they send, then I can understand it. But if I sent an important email and requested one, which I do very rarely, I would be upset if you just chose to ignore that request.

    1. Jeff*

      I would have no problem with that if I could at least look at the email before deciding if it was worth sending the read receipt. I found this page when trying to decide what to do, decided ultimately not to send the receipt, and it turned out that it had a long list of recipients on it, and I was CCd; in other words, they needed the receipt from the others, but not from me.

  31. dck*

    On a different message board someone was applying for a job, hadn’t gotten a response yet and was considering sending a follow up email. It was suggested that she sent it read receipt. I was the only person who protested that they are annoying and would be a mark against her. Nice to know I am not the only person who hates them.

  32. Liz*

    I’ve set up my home email to never send receipts. My work account will prompt me. If you always ask for a receipt, I’ll say no every time. If it’s a one-off or a confirmation for a policy change (or something important) then I’ll happily send you a read receipt.

    And if you flag every email as High Importance and put in every request as “needed in 2 days”, yours will go to the bottom of my queue.

  33. Anonymous*

    I work in tech support. Some ISPs block all new domains’ incoming mail as an anti-robot spam measure. I get an auto-reply that I have to reply to so that my original email will go through. I never do it. If you contact support and want help, whitelist us. Like Jaime I have some pet peeves and that’s one.

  34. J*

    I have/will never respond to a read receipt. Especially when the email message requires me to respond anyway. Do you really need to see when I read the message versus when I responded? How passive aggressive is that crap?

    1. Tax Nerd*

      Same here. If it’s important that I reply, wait for my reply. And accept the fact that I may need time to do some analysis / clear my plate/ check something with someone before you get your reply.

      If it’s important that you notified me, all that matters is that you sent it, and maybe that I got it. If I didn’t read it, the consequences are on me.

      But then I am of the belief that anything important AND urgent shouldn’t be left to email.

  35. Goosey Lucy*

    Once I had my email set up so that emails with a certain subjuct would be automatically sent into certain email folders until I could get to them. I guess when that happens, the if the sender sent a read reciept, it tells them that I “deleted without reading.”

    She emailed my boss’ boss that I had done this. My boss forwarded to her and I replied with an explanation and little else, but there was a lot that I wanted to say that wouldn’t have been very professional.

  36. Another Anonymous*

    I use them (read receipts) all the time with our outside clients when I am sending materials attached to the email. I want to know they were delivered and that the client has opened the message. If I don’t get a read receipt when I’ve sent materials, then I can call the client before I travel to their site to make sure that everything is arranged. One time I arrived at an appointment, even after having confirmed the details by phone a few days prior, and the client had not received my email with the attachments and had not called till the night before, when, of course, I was out of the office traveling. So I see the usefulness, but not automatically and not for every message.

  37. Jenna*

    I had no idea it was considered so rude to set up your email to tell you when something was read. I suppose I didn’t think about someone having to click something(my email never asked for a confirmation).
    I have used the email receipts. I set it up because I was sending emails regarding a machine being down that was being remotely fixed(network stuff) and I needed to know when someone was looking at the problem. The email was sent to several people, any of which might be the person to get to it that day, or might be out of the office. My location was not given a schedule and we were made to understand that emails were preferred over phone calls. If none were opened in a timely fashion(within an hour) someone on my end would need to make a phone call instead to make sure we had time to get the issue fixed, and complete the daily work.
    Ah, the joys of a remote branch.

  38. Business as Usual*

    I’m so glad that I read all these comments. I’m new to the business side of my industry and had no idea what to do with all these read receipts. They do drive me crazy and I’m glad to hear so many people consider them passive aggressive!

  39. Bystander*

    I set my computer to automatically “never” send a read receipt to anyone, then I am not faced with the pop up. Sometimes I print my messages to read later; therefore, I don’t want it to appear that I have read the message. If you have something to reply to on the email, send her back a reply that way she knows you have read it as you have responded to her. It is not productive to stop and read every message immediately when you get it – most people flag urgent messages as so.

  40. Kelly*

    I actually get frustrated when someone doesn’t.

    When I send my employees emails I want to know that they have read them. Sending a read-receipt lets me know this without them having to reply to my email right away to tell me they received the info.

  41. Trevor*

    I’m a contractor and a lot of companies say they did not receive my invoice that I send via email, which means I always need to fight for my money. So now I send a read receipt

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