In the early 1990s, many experts predicted that electronic messaging would increase employee wellbeing by making communicating easier, faster, and more painless than ever. Indeed, gone were the days of dealing with fax machine malfunctions, paper jams and snail mail sluggishness.
Today, nevertheless, the email’s advantages of yore have turned into a social trap. As described by John Platt in 1973, social traps are situations where ‘men or organizations or whole societies get themselves started in some direction or some set of relationships that later prove to be unpleasant or lethal and that they see no easy way to back out of or to avoid’.
That sounds about right.
From time saver, to time waster
In 2015, a staggering 100 billion business emails are send every day! Setting up a meeting might have once been accomplished by just dropping by a colleague’s office. But today, oh no, it usually takes multiple email exchanges for those involved to just decide on a time and location. Inbox overflow is furthermore exacerbated by the (often needless) copying-in of other staff.
According to a recent McKinsey report, employees spend around 13 hours a week on electronic messaging. Some feel so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages, that they use personal time before bed, on weekends and at the end of holidays to just keep their head above water.
It’s clear that the original aim of electronic messaging – to increase efficiency and save time – has been lost in the shuffle.
A contributing factor to on-the-job stress
Not only do many expect prompt replies to the emails they send, they also put added pressure on themselves to respond to emails on the spot. Some employees spend almost their entire day responding to emails. For managers in multinational companies with clients, contractors and associates in multiple time zones around the globe, this can mean sending and receiving emails in the middle of the night and over weekends.
Electronic messaging has created a work environment in which employees are overwhelmed and under constant pressure to respond almost instantaneously to demands.
If you want to recue your productivity from the grips of email overload
- Forbid evening and weekend email exchanges: this can encourage managers to work offline over the weekend, and press the ‘send’ button on Monday morning, leaving their employees inundated at 9am on Monday morning;
- Use or encourage address filtering: being reactive with a selective few and ignoring the “masses” can lead to great frustration and decreased productivity amongst those who get semi-ignored by their bosses or peers.
- Encourage old-school exchanges: a chat over the phone, a chance encounter at the coffee machine, or an impromptu face-to-face discussion can sometimes be the most efficient way of moving forward on a project;
- Schedule offline periods: This will limit distractions and decrease the temptation of responding “too quickly” to every email that comes in;
- Set aside designated time to respond to emails: this will help encourage more thoughtful, efficient email responses;
- Keep emails brief and to the point whenever possible: and think twice whether an email is necessary at all;
- Stop putting everyone in copy: ask yourself if so-and-so really needs to read this, or if you’re just wasting their time;
- Tweak your spam filter: stop letting your inbox fill up with pesky promotional messages;
- Make your ‘out of office’ message brutally honest: Save yourself a lot of headaches by letting people know that all emails received during your absence will be deleted, and that if they want to get in touch with you, they should re-contact you upon your return.