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 (Pingdom.com)

• 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 www.yourthoughtpartner.com/email-research-and-resources

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 (www.yourthoughtpartner.com), 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.