Dinged by another email message. How are you supposed to get your work done? For a tool that was supposed to save time and effort, email has often become an intrusive annoyance, however necessary, for many.
To reduce stress on employees and improve productivity, many companies, like yours, are creating ways to fight back.
Effects of Email Overload
McKinsey reports that a typical employee spends 2.6 hour per day (= 13 hours per week) reading and answering email.
Because employees feel constant pressure to respond to email, some 34% of employees report feeling burned out—a situation that the COVID-19 pandemic made worse last year because of blurred lines between work and home.
According to one survey as reported by Forbes, more than one-third of employees said that email overload might cause them to quit their jobs.
Clearly, digital overload causes workers to be “always on,” with higher cortisol blood levels, stress, and anxiety as a result. Such a situation negatively impacts employee health, causing increased absence from work and loss of productivity.
Use of distribution lists can create additional burdens, especially when a message calls for a response. If recipients do not clearly understand who is responsible for taking action or responding, confusion can result—not a good client-facing strategy.
What can be done?
Develop a Plan
The first step is to develop company protocols and direction, a plan, rather than leaving individuals to manage as best they can. Executives and managers can boost morale and productivity by collaborating with employees to determine what will actually work for their situation.
Some employees might already be superstars in handling email. They can offer suggestions and help their colleagues achieve greater efficiency. The point is to engage employees in developing a company plan so that they will “buy into” the result and feel like they have some control over their working environment.
Suggestions for Company and Individuals
Some suggestions for reducing email overload include both personal actions, company policies, and technical shifts.
- Consider a policy of no interaction with company email during times (e.g., weekends or paid time off) when employees are officially presumed to be not working.
- Implement rules for internal communication such as using Slack or other instant messaging applications, instead of email.
- Establish protocols, approved by management, for determining relative priority of emails received from external sources.
- Encourage using a single-touch rule: When you receive an email, delete it, do it, delegate it, or defer it. When deferring, have a plan for reviewing periodically.
- Suggest that employees can check their email only two or three times daily so that they can get actual work done. Research shows that resuming a task that is interrupted by email takes at least 23 minutes. Quality and efficiency both suffer.
- Set expectations for the time it takes to respond to email. Automated responses outlining such expectations can help.
- Avoid copying others on messages unless some action is requested of them.
- When an action or response is needed, consider designating a manager of each distribution list who is responsible for assigning tasks. It might be necessary to use management applications such as Monday.com or AirTable to coordinate responses.
- Use Calendly or a scheduler feature in MS Outlook or Gmail to arrange appointments and meetings.
CEOs and managers can do a lot to curb email overload. Developing a company-wide plan, in collaboration with those affected, produces the best results.
Modeling and encouraging good email behavior will also bring needed changes to a company’s communications culture. The ultimate goal is to make communication more efficient, more effective, and less stressful. Morale and productivity will increase as well.
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