Writing Internal Emails That Get Results

Email reigns supreme as the primary channel for communicating to employees, especially in offices. Though it’s not the perfect solution and hasn’t elbowed out other wellness program publicity tools — like word-of-mouth, promotional events, social media, and posters — it remains among the most common and practical ways to reach the masses. In fact, the effectiveness of email is its own problem: Everyone relies on it, making overloaded inboxes a source of exasperation.

How do you break through the clutter, getting busy employees to open and give due attention to your wellness email blasts?

Email Matters

The success of your program may depend on skillfully drafted emails that introduce, motivate, or update participants about wellness opportunities. If, for example, you’re promoting an activity that’s web-based or requires online registration, like an HES campaign, email lets you embed a link that enables the recipient to commit immediately. Compare this to a poster an employee may see on the way to their workspace. What are the chances they’ll recall the registration URL or remember the poster at all?

Unfortunately, many well-being practitioners as well as communicators from other industries blast emails that don’t stand a chance of making an impact. Strategic messages can exponentially increase the number of employees who notice, open, read, and act on your emails.

Don’t Be Content With Imperfect Content

Be clear about the most important thing your email is intended to communicate, and specifically why it’s important to the recipient. Think like the reader — assuming they’re busy and have a full inbox they’re eager to empty. When they open your message, they scan it to find out “What’s in this for me?” Let them know immediately, in the first sentence (maybe also in the subject header, but we’ll get to that), or they’ll click Delete before you can say, “Why’s my participation rate so low?”

Just the Facts

To announce a new activity, essential email elements include:

  • The who, what, when, where, and why (“The Well2Do program invites you to SleepEZ, Monday, March 11, at 12 noon ET. Sleep better and have more energy!”)
  • A compelling hook that spotlights how it’s going to fill the employee’s need (“SleepEZ launches the first day after Daylight Savings Time — just what you need for a smooth transition.”)
  • How to get questions answered (“Call or email Cary, Wellness Director, at… ”)
  • Enough information for the recipient to decide whether they want to take the next step.

If the promotion requires a lot of details, post them on your intranet or your program’s Facebook® page (or whatever you use) and include the link to keep your email message tight while allowing employees to get more information on demand.

Call to Action

Most promotional emails seek to get recipients to act, like “Register Today for This Swashbuckling Yo Ho Ho Campaign!” or “Finalize Your Team by Thursday.” Include this call to action conspicuously near the beginning and at the end of your message. Encourage recipients to act immediately. Once they’ve trashed or filed the email, you may have lost them. Proofread your message thoroughly — preferably out loud to hear more corrections than you’ll see — before and after making changes. Pay extra attention to dates and links, which are prone to errors.

5 Tips for Emails That Work
  • Be concise
  • Put essential details in priority order
  • Remember the call to action
  • Be meticulous
  • Don’t go overboard with formatting.
Gussy It Up

If you have the technological tools/expertise or in-house support to professionally design emails with well-placed images and carefully chosen fonts, make the most of it. Most wellness practitioners create messages in their desktop email application; getting too fancy risks garbling a message on any of the platforms where an employee might view it (such as mobile, tablet, Mac®, desktop PC). In that case, you still can format emails that bring the reader’s attention to the right places. Sometimes, this requires breaking unwritten rules of design you may have learned:

  • Apply bold, highlighting, and color text selectively. You can use multiple colors, but get others’ feedback to confirm they’re not dizzying.
  • Use bulleted lists, subheads, and extra space between paragraphs. These reader-friendly tips make skimming easier.
  • Embed a simple image near the top or bottom of your message, but check multiple platforms to confirm it’s not scrambling your text. You don’t want someone to see only the image when they open an email on their mobile device. If you’re not confident about what you’re doing, get help or skip the pics.
  • Try your email application’s functions to insert symbols. But test, test, test. Your text decoration may be displayed as a question mark on your boss’s smartwatch.
Get Ahead of Subject Headers

A perfect message is wasted if recipients take a look at the subject line and click delete. A few tips:

  • Specify what’s in the email. Generic headers like, “Today’s the Day!” will land in the trash. Better: “Acme, Inc. Is Tobacco-Free Starting Today.”
  • Emphasize a verb when you can. Action words create a sense of urgency and excitement. Your call to action sometimes will suffice: “Register Today to Spring Into Motion” garners more registrations than, say, “HealthTrails Registration Is Today.”
  • Consider lines with “How to…” or alluding to a numbered list: “How to Feel Like a Million — New Program Starts Next Week” or “5 Ways Colorful Choices Makes Eating Veggies Fun.”
  • Don’t pose a question, like “Can You Get to 10,000 Steps?” Recipients dismiss them, especially when they know the answer: “Yeah, I can get to 10,000 steps if I really want to.” Use an upbeat, inspiring variation, like “Yes, You Can Walk 10,000 Steps a Day!”

Judicious use of all CAPS and even exclamation points are okay for internal email, if you’ve confirmed they won’t be flagged by spam filters. Again, moderation is the key. Overusing these techniques irritates recipients; eventually they’ll tune out anything you send.

Header Length Is Less Important Than the Order of th…

Subject line length is an art. Generally, the recipient chooses how much of a heading to display onscreen before it gets truncated. Long headers are okay, as long as the most important words are near the beginning, where they’re most likely to be seen.


  1. “Win an Apple Watch! Register for Keep America Active to Enter the Drawing”


  1. “Get Entered Into a Drawing by Registering for Keep America Active and You Could Win an Apple Watch!”

In version 1 above, “Win an Apple Watch” grabs attention, and the reader’s likely also to see the call to action about registering. The phrase “… to enter the drawing” is a less important aside at the end so employees don’t think everyone who registers automatically wins.

On the other hand, in version 2, after the passive “Get Entered Into a Drawing by Registering… ” no one’s paying attention.

For less important messages, like reminders of programs you’ve already publicized, you can experiment with more offbeat lines. I once created unprecedented buzz about a tobacco cessation program when everyone in the company received an email from HR with the subject header: “YOU CAN QUIT! Free Yourself From Tobacco.”

Another example: Starting with a checkmark in “ Be Heard. Complete Your Wellness Survey Today” tested so well sent to 50 people that I wasn’t surprised at the excellent results when I blasted it to the rest of the company.

Read Great Emails; Write Great Emails

One of the best ways to learn is through observation. As you receive promotional emails in your own inbox, be mindful of why you open some and delete others, why you act on some and get annoyed by others. Is it a catchy subject line? A unique opening sentence? An appeal to something you care about?

As always, comply with your organization’s communication policies and partner with designated specialists when you can.


Bob MerbergBob Merberg
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.

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