Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stop Bad Email, But Not All Email

Guest post by David Grossman. My favorite email pet peeve? People who don't know the difference between when to use "reply" vs. "reply all". (-:

Email was designed as a tool to help us communicate more efficiently. Ironically, our use of email – the most common communication tool in organizations today – makes us less efficient and in many cases makes our communication less effective.

Email overload is a reality in today’s business world. As leaders, we see the impacts first hand: employee stress, inefficiency in the workplace, work-life balance concerns and the list goes on.

From a big picture perspective, the facts on email tell quite a story:

• In 2010, roughly 107 trillion emails were sent – 294 billion emails every day (

• The average user reaches information overload when their inbox hits 50 emails (Harris Interactive)

The sheer amount of email is causing stress in organizations. So the $64,000 question is – as a leader, what can you specifically do to address it?

Some organizations have taken a dramatic approach in an attempt to correct email overload, instituting no email days at work or simply eliminating email as a communication tool. Our recently released research, the 2012 Work-related Email Perception Study, provides unique insight into the workers’ perception of these strategies across role and function.

Simply put, employees want problem email behaviors addressed and reigned in, but they do not want their ability to use email eliminated or limited.

The data we collected tells quite a story:

Email is seen as an effective and necessary communication tool by more than three-quarters of all audiences (executives – 84 percent; middle managers – 83 percent; employees – 77 percent)

Limiting email outside normal business hours is seen very effective by few (executives – 11 percent; middle managers – 20 percent; employees – 13 percent)

Limiting email during normal business hours carries even less support (executives – 8 percent; middle managers – 15 percent; employees – 11 percent)

What are employees looking for when it comes to email overload? They want guidelines that address the seemingly endless amount of irrelevant email that hits their inbox each day. While just about everyone with an email account is feeling the pain, middle managers are particularly affected by irrelevant email.

Our study revealed an average middle manager spends 6,000 minutes (100 hours) on irrelevant email over the course of a year. Additionally, irrelevant email costs an average supervisor 5,250 minutes (87.5 hours) and an average employee 4,250 minutes (71 hours) every year.

Regardless of the size of your organization, those hours add up fast.

Here are four steps to help you understand the effect of email stress in your organization and move toward a solution:

1. Generate a baseline understanding of email overload in your organization. Know what problem email behaviors are impacting your employees, causing stress and limiting productivity.

2. Create email guidelines consistent with your culture. Align your organization around the best uses of email as a communication tool. Agree on when – and how quickly – responses are required.

3. Practice what you preach. As a leader, all eyes are on you. Ensure that you’re following the same behaviors you expect to see from others in your organization.

4. Train employees on email use, and help them self-identify the behaviors they need to correct. No one wants to be singled out as the cause of a problem – particularly one that affects people so deeply. With a little humor, you can embed the right email behaviors in your organization in a non-threatening way.

Problem email behaviors can be addressed. Remember, everyone has skin in this game.

With a clear approach you can build understanding throughout your organization on how email can be used the way it was intended – to make individuals and organizations more efficient in their communications. In doing so, you’ll elevate the overall level of communications in your organization and help everyone remember the value of face-to-face and voice-to-voice communications.

For more information and resources related to the 2012 Work-related Email Perception Study visit

About David Grossman and The Grossman Group
A leading consultant, speaker and author, David Grossman is one of America's foremost authorities on communication inside organizations and is founder and CEO of The Grossman Group (, an award-winning Chicago-based communications consultancy focusing on organizational consulting, strategic leadership development and internal communications for Fortune 500 clients. David is often quoted in media and provides expert commentary and analysis on employee and leadership issues.


Kama Timbrell said...

I once had to attend a training session on internet use and how it effects corporate bandwidth (apparently people were downloading movies), as well as best practices and things to not do with email. Specifically mentioned was a reply all to announcements that was nothing more than "congrats!"

Guess what I received in my inbox not 15 minutes after that session? A "congrats!" email that was a reply to all.

Dan McCarthy said...

Kama -
Aarrgh, that's the same guy!

Jennifer V. Miller said...


This is a nice post and a good reminder. Email has become such a way of life, I think common sense sometimes eludes us. One thing I remind school myself to do - is ask myself before I reply, "Would a phone call save us time?" Many times, an email that says "this is becoming too complex for email, let's schedule a time to talk" can reduce misunderstandings AND save time in the long run.

Unknown said...

"2. Create email guidelines consistent with your culture. " Well said. I think this is something that's overlooked most times in small businesses. Email is a great tool if you use it correctly, and often times -- it's not. I can't stand when people put subject lines that are irrelevant to the email content, or writing crazy long emails instead of picking up the phone.

In light of this topic - I think you'll get a kick out of the little email series EnMast did:

Anonymous said...

Great article. I like the idea of email guidelines which would help curb the noise of unnecessary emails (better suited for other channels) and could help templatize the use of quick action-oriented emails for general consumption.

Often, company emails are somewhat unweildly and don't have a clear purpose or structure. Long lost are the days of the corporate memo. Even though they were often disliked, everyone who was in the know would still read them.

Whatever the case may be at your organization, finding the email champions to take this system into realization will be critical to impacting the culture in a positive way. - Jessica

anthony vigneron said...

Great Dan and absolutely right: whatever the media used there will always be poor practices applied resulting in abuse of the media.
I shared a few best practices to help apply your point 3 and 4!

Thank you,

Pierre Khawand said...

Great article! Email overload is truly a huge barrier to productivity and is continually listed as the top workplace distraction--as well as a being big contributor to stress! You might enjoy this recent New York Times article, which illustrated email frustrations quite well. We reviewed the article here and also offered some helpful resources to overcome email madness:

David Grossman said...

Thank you for the interest in my column and for your great comments. They’re reflective of the sentiments I commonly hear from our clients. Email use is a major pain point on several levels including efficiency and interruptions at work (like a “congrats!” reply-all), and the feeling of encroachment at home. The good news is most believe change is possible, and people are open to a solution. The challenge for organizations is to know the specific problems facing their employees and encourage informed behavior changes in keeping with their culture. It’s a big task, and everyone’s individual effort has a positive impact for the organization as a whole. With so much at stake the reward is certainly worth it.