This is part one of a series exploring everyone’s favorite topic, email. In this post I look at how email makes employees miserable. In a follow up post I will explore solutions and alternatives to standard email related tasks.
It can sound like a gentle wave, an eager ding, or perhaps a vibration on our phone felt from a pocket. It’s email, and regardless of how much we talk about the future of work and collaboration, we cannot ignore this blaring reality of all employee lives. Email keeps us handcuffed to our phones and computers–always alert to that distracting delivery notification of a new message.
It’s like a virus spreading beyond containable proportions. It has become an out of control situation.
We use email for everything related to communication and collaboration at work even though it’s no longer the most effective way to do either. Everyone has an email account. Its widespread reach is both its greatest strength and biggest weakness. There are five ways that email is making the lives of employees around the world today miserable.
Too much of it
There are around 90 billion business emails sent out every single day. According to Mimecast, an enterprise email management company, we spend around half of our working day (four hours) using email (although other reports have this number to be at around 25-30%). Additionally, 39% of users regularly send, receive, and check emails outside of working hours (Mimecast “The Shape of Email 2012″). This means that half of what we get paid to do as employees is use email. This a scary statistic.
The amount of email employees get is so overwhelming that it’s oftentimes one of the first things people check in the morning and one of the last things they do before retiring to bed. Radicati Group estimates that employees receive around 78 business emails a day and send around 37 a day. This brings the total to around 115 emails a day (sent and received)! On average employees check their email 36 times an hour which amounts to 288 times a day for an eight hour work day. To make matters worse it takes employees around 16 minutes to refocus on their tasks after handling email. The fact that employees get so much email every day (and this is just business email), means employees have to work longer hours. This is because half of their time at work isn’t actually spent working. Bottom line, too much email makes employees miserable.
Forwarding long threaded email conversations has become the norm for looping other team members in. Since email is the default communication medium in most companies, when an employee needs to join the conversation he or she is conveniently sent a massive forwarded email thread which kindly says “see below.” This employee is now stuck weeding through a massive, unformatted, and disorganized email thread. Quite simply this takes accountability off the sender by sending a message similar to: “I forwarded you the conversation so you should have all the info you need.” This tactic is not only ineffective but it’s time consuming. It also makes the lives of employees…miserable.
Rapid response expectation
When email first came out it was used for asynchronous communication. You would send an email and in a day or two would get a response back. Nowadays if you don’t respond to someone’s email in a few hours they think you’re dead. Most employees are essentially email slaves. Now that employees can check and respond to email on their mobile devices they are forever connected to the email overlords. Not only have companies created a work culture where employees are expected to respond to emails right away, but many of them are expected to do so on the weekends too. In a study by Good Technology they found that 38% of employees routinely check work email at the dinner table, 50% do so while still in bed, and 69% won’t even go to bed without first checking their email.
This expectation that employees always need to be checking and responding to emails makes employees…miserable.
Used for everything and anything
Want to share a document with someone? Email it. Want to invite an employee to an event? Email them. Need to ask a question? Email it. Need to send a one word response to something? Email it. Want to send meeting notes to your team? Sure, just type them up in your email and blast it out to everyone.
Email has gotten out of control to the point where it’s used for everything and anything. Today only around one in three emails is essential for work. To give you an analogy, imagine trying to fix every problem in your house with just a screwdriver. Regardless of what the problem is, you have that trusty screwdriver to help you out even though it’s clearly not the best suited tool for most of what you need to get done. The fact that companies use email for everything and anything makes employees miserable
Email as the company therapist
You ever get those emails from someone only to find that what you’re reading sounds like it should be contained in a personal diary of the person who sent it? Oftentimes employees can send out verbose emails with scattered ideas that colleagues are expected to read just to find that one piece of relevant information that they need. It’s kind of like a weird game where I send you an essay and say “find the one sentence in this text that answers your question.” No matter what this schizophrenic email says employees are expected to read it. Finally, the fact that employees are expected to read everything that comes their way makes employees…miserable.
The hard truth is that email is not the most effective tool for communication or collaboration. There are better technologies and strategies out there. Stay tuned for my second post providing actionable advice on how to stop making employees miserable with email.
In the meantime, let’s stop making the lives of employees miserable!
Jacob is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Social and Collaborative Tools (McGraw Hill).