Coach’s Corner Blog

Slaying the Email Beast – A Radical Proposal

September 4, 2014 by 1 Comment

Inbox Zero

Several years ago I conducted a survey for a highly successful international Investment Banking team to better understand the impact of email communications on their team, especially regarding the time they spent using email and the perceived benefits.  Some of the key findings from this 200+ person team:

  • 70% conservatively spent over 20 hours / week on email;
  • They spent 1.4 hrs. / evening and 1.65 hrs. / weekend on email;
  • 92% of people said others were distracted by multitasking when you spoke to them;
  • 84% respond to email constantly or whenever I get a chance”

I offered several suggestions for improving email habits and they still have challenges with email. In some work I am doing with a client, who is a prolific user of email, the feedback from several folks said his emails were intrusive and overwhelming. One woman got 6 emails on Mother’s Day and another stopped responding after hours and on weekends. Others were intimidated when they received an email from him at 3 or 4 in the morning. Is there an implied duty to respond ASAP to one of the senior leaders of your company? This creates its own set of pressures and challenges in the workplace.

On August 28, the New York Times had a commentary by Clive Thompson entitled End the Tyranny of 24/7 Email. Here are some chilling facts from this article:

  • White collar workers spend 28% of their time on email and check messages 74 times / day.
  • Smartphone using white collar workers are “umbilically connected to email a stunning 13.5 hours per day” and “38% check email” even during dinner.

Some companies are trying to combat this menace. For example, Daimler, the German automaker, allows employees to set their corporate email to “holiday mode” when they are on vacation. The email is directed to an alternate person who can assist. Then the email message is DELETED! This is so employees do not have to come back to an avalanche of email to catch up on.

The Toronto office of Edelman, the global PR firm, created a “7-to-7” rule to strongly discourage email before 7 AM or after 7 PM.  Employees can check email if they want, but they are not supposed to send it to colleagues. If there is a client crisis, any employee is free to use their judgment to respond as they see fit. And that last part – using their judgment – is critical. When people send email for every little detail they can think of, to inform every member of the task force on all issues big and small, it reflects a lack of confidence and empowerment on the part of everyone, Thompson cautions. He goes on to state:

In contrast, when employees are actually empowered, they make more judgment calls on their own. They also start using phone calls and face-to-face chats to resolve issues quickly, so they don’t metastasize into email threads the length of War and Peace. This is basic behavioral economics. When email is seen as an infinite resource, people abuse it. If a corporation constrains its use, each message becomes more valuable – and employees become more mindful of how and when they write.

Such a change does not need to be a draconian policy. Employees do like to have the flexibility to check email on their timetable.  But if this is going to work, the policy must come from the top and be enforced top down. This will NOT bubble up from the troops because there are too many risks in taking on this thorny issue. If you value employee engagement in an atmosphere where there is still a lot of fear about job security in general, this is one policy change you may wish to consider.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Please share your experiences or ideas with us all in the comments section below.


Photo Credit: hyperdashery badges / CC


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    Tim Trapp September 6, 2014, 1:00 pm

    I try to follow the following guidelines to help get off email
    1. Do it
    2. Defer it
    3. Delete it


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