A manager in another department in my office wishes to avoid filling in a particularly trying online form. I know this because she has emailed me asking if I am familiar with it. Her email is effusive. She is sure I ‘will be much more au fait with the process’ than she is. She wishes me ‘a lovely weekend when it comes’. It is signed with an ‘X’. I reply without one. She isn’t somebody I know well. This being a large organisation, face-to-face meetings can be a rarity. Not so, the distribution of Xs.
Perusal of my inbox brings up threads of requests and suggested catch-ups in which the closing ‘X’ (or kiss) is incongruous attenuation. It has accompanied agenda attachments, attendee lists and queries. It’s there following questions from someone in Strategy, who I think I may have met in my first week, and at the end of every email I’ve received from a member of the Marketing team.
Should I be flattered or irritated? Probably not the former, but quite possibly the latter, as it seems that Xs in work emails have become an instrument of mute warfare by which colleagues end unwelcome messages with faux chumminess in a bid to ensure their messages are acted upon.
Of course, Xs in work emails don’t all seek favours or carry instructions, but they do all pose the question of how they should be received and responded to. If you don’t use one in reply, will you seem stuffy or cold? After the X has featured once in an exchange, does its subsequent absence suggest some kind of snub? And, in the light of current multitude of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in all kinds of industries, should we be extra careful about who we fire off Xs to, for fear of making people feel uncomfortable?
The use of Xs in emails at work may have crept in via our increasingly all-consuming online communications (WhatsApp, Facebook et al) with friends and family outside it. A quick check suggests use of the concluding X in my office divides along gender lines; women using them more than men, but it doesn’t appear that age is a determining factor. In this there is no Generation X.
I try to be parsimonious with my Xs at work. I make an exception in instances where collegiate chat has strayed into the personal. A work friend and I have discovered a shared love of open-water swimming and at this stage it might be rude not to end emails to her this way. But I am left with the sense that whether it is to sugar coat a request or a mutual exchange of digital kisses, workplace communication would be better with the X left off.