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How to Deal with Email Overload & Irrelevance

Lexie McCulloch

October 13, 2021

4

min read

Despite the surge in workplace communication platforms like Slack and MS Teams, these newer instant messaging (IM) services aren’t slowing down email. The number of emails sent and received globally has steadily increased in the last few years and is expected to rise to 376.4 billion by 2025.

Email, along with IM, has become a substitute for in-person communication, especially in a new era of remote and hybrid work. These tools are posited as the cure to meeting-itis, but replacing useless meetings with 1,000 emails isn’t the way forward.

The real cost of email

These communication platforms do come at a cost. There’s the literal cost to the business - it’s estimated that email and IM platforms like Slack cost companies around $28,209 per employee per year. Which isn’t surprising given that employees spend about three hours a day checking email. It’s not Slack vs. email, it’s Slack and email, and finding a healthy balance is crucial in organizations of any size.

There’s also the toll it takes on employees struggling to manage the uptick in team communication. People feel pressured to provide a speedy response to the barrage of messages in their inbox, but this only leaves them distracted from the work at hand and overwhelmed by the pressure to constantly be “on.” The burnout experienced from email fatigue is enough to push some people to quit their jobs.

The fact remains that email is a vital part of any business. It is asynchronous, meaning that employees can respond on their own time, not in real time. This allows for more thoughtful and detailed exchanges and all messages are consolidated in one place. It certainly has its cons, but like any tool, email can best be utilized when everyone knows how to use it, and knows what’s expected of them.

The importance of boundaries

Clear communication requires clear boundaries. Establishing rules for email communication can alleviate much of the stress caused by overstuffed inboxes and free up more time and attention for work that matters. Here are some rules to consider.

How and when you respond to email can impact your stress levels. Creating some separation between you and your inbox can leave you more relaxed and better-focused. Surveys show that most people expect a response time of 12-24 hours, so you can certainly wait until tomorrow to respond to that dreaded after hours email.

Reply all is one of the worst email nightmares; it is the unnecessary clutter haunting many recipients’ inboxes. A general rule of thumb is to keep the number of people copied to a minimum, and by listing just one recipient in the To field, it becomes clear who needs to react to the email.

What is the appropriate response time for general business matters? What about responses to a client? Are there any exceptions? The best way to determine these rules is through analysis of your team’s response time to internal emails. We measure this and other metrics on the Time is Limited platform.

The right data can improve email efficiency

Email analytics can help your team uncover where inefficiencies lie. Key insights about email volume and relevance can be gleaned from metrics such as sent emails per person, proportion of emails with CC/BCC, and number of people on CC/BCC field. But of course, the data itself is useless without the right implementation. Once management has analyzed the data and set the expectations, they should also lead through example by following the outlined email rules, which can set the tone for a wider workplace shift.

Employers can also take regular temperature checks of stress levels, which can provide benchmarks for progress toward continued employee wellbeing. A better relationship with email will translate to a better relationship to work, one where employees can prioritize what’s important, rather than just urgent.

wRITTEN BY

Lexie McCulloch