I ran across this article from CNBC on how many hours Americans spend on email each day. It’s an interesting read. The article says that we spend 209 minutes a day checking work email and 143 on personal messages for a total of 352 minutes. That translates to roughly 5 hours and 52 minutes each day (almost 6 hours a day).
I have a couple of takeaways from this.
If employees only answer work emails at work, then they’re spending a little over 3 hours a day on work email. In a typical 8-hour day, that means employees only have 5 hours left to be productive. Of course, that’s saying that none of the 5 hours is spent in life draining meetings. I’m being a bit sarcastic there, but you get the point.
It also means that work emails could potentially be lost in the noise. Employees might glance over a subject line and delete it thinking that the message isn’t important. Or open a message and not take the time to read the entire thread before responding. And who can blame them? Many employees aren’t told during the interview process about how much time they will spend answering emails.
I do understand that there could be such a thing as “productive email”. Some messages are necessary and helpful. The question becomes how much is the right amount of email. My guess is, if I asked most employees if they get too much unproductive email, I would get a resounding “yes”. So, we need to make sure that we do things to reduce the amount of unproductive messages and potential email fatigue. Here are a few things to consider:
Match the message to the medium. Some messages are better sent in person and others are okay via email. Organizations need to ensure that messages are sent the right way. I’ve seen way too many times an organization send a company-wide email because it’s easy on them and then wonder why no one read it.
Find alternative technologies that will send messages. While email is still a significant business communications tool, there are some others that have emerged – texting, collaborative platforms like Slack, and apps like Workplace from Facebook. Each of these has pros and cons that could be worth investigating. But the end result could be time savings.
Set a good example. If you want employees to send good productive messages, then it starts with senior management. I once worked for a company that had “email guidelines”. At the time, I thought it was hilarious but maybe they were doing the right thing by formally setting expectations.
Hold people accountable for following good email etiquette. I know no manager wants to counsel an employee about “reply all” messages but it’s a huge frustration and it could limit an employee’s effectiveness. Think about ways to coach employees on the right way to send email.
I hate to admit it, these things aren’t new. But they work. And we often forget that. The answer doesn’t have to be an email training program or email disciplinary action. It does need to be a conversation about “How do we communicate more effectively?” Because the better we communicate, the less time employees will spend on email and the more time they will focus on productivity.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the HR Change & Transformation Conference in London, England14