Here's How Managers Can Ease the Burden of E-Mail

By Lisa Rabasca Roepe May 18, 2021
Heres How Managers Can Ease the Burden of E-Mail

​E-mail—with its endless barrage of messages—is a major source of stress for employees. And remote work has only increased the number of daily e-mails that must be answered.

The total number of business and consumer e-mails sent and received each day is expected to exceed 319 billion in 2021, according to The Radicati Group Inc., a technology market research firm in Palo Alto, Calif. The group also forecasts that this number will grow to over 376 billion by the end of 2025.

"Responding to e-mail can feel like digging a hole in the sand," said Jill Santopietro Panall, SHRM-SCP, owner and chief consultant at 21 Oak HR Consulting in Newburyport, Mass. "You answer one, and two more come in."

Managers can help ease the burden of e-mail on their staff by setting clear expectations about when and how to use e-mail to communicate. Here are three ways managers can cut down on the volume of e-mails being sent internally.

1.      Establish clear guidelines.  

At many companies, e-mail has become the default means of communication. Many employees treat e-mail like it's a text message—expecting an immediate answer, sending out multiple e-mails and copying the entire staff on messages that don't apply to everyone. Setting ground rules on when to e-mail and who to e-mail can help reduce the number of daily e-mails.

"We've found that it helps to dissuade employees from cc'ing staff unnecessarily or sending 'greetings' and e-mails not related to work," said George Santos, director of talent delivery and head of marketing at 180 Engineering, an engineering and IT recruiting firm in Lisle, Ill. 

At Wilbur Labs, a San Francisco-based startup studio, staffers are encouraged to limit e-mail to people who need to know about an action or meeting, said co-founder David Kolodny. Managers can set a good example for staff by "always carefully considering who to include on each e-mail so that it does not unintentionally distract people who don't need to be looped in," he said.

2.      Set expectations about whether it's necessary to close the loop after every e-mail.
For instance, some managers set up a system where employees only respond to an internal request if they can't complete a task, said Shani Harmon, CEO of Stop Meeting Like This, a Chicago-based personal services firm that helps companies become more productive. Managers can also set expectations about whether it's necessary to respond to every completed task with a thank you e-mail. Sometimes it suffices to just say thank you in the same e-mail that is requesting information, she said.

3.      Send information that is not time-sensitive in one e-mail.

Rather than bombarding staff with multiple e-mails throughout the day, managers should collect information on a project, then e-mail staff one document, rather than sending e-mail after e-mail with partial information, said Matt Erhard, managing partner at Summit Search Group, a Toronto-based recruiting firm.

"This is particularly useful for things like project updates or reminders about upcoming deadlines or events that don't need to be in your employees' inbox the moment they pop into your head," he said. "Since the team knows to expect an e-mail from me, there's less of a chance someone will miss important information."

At the beginning of each month, Sam Lowy, CEO of Life Insurance Star, a New Jersey insurance agency, sends one e-mail to staff that outlines deadlines and expectations for the coming month, instead of sending individual e-mails about each deadline or upcoming task. "It includes reminders, specific tasks and announcements that I may have," Lowy said. "I make sure that it's clear enough for people to understand, but if anyone needs clarification, I advise them to get in touch with me directly through DMs or calls." 

Dena Goldsmith, president of Home Safe Home, an aging-in-place home modification company in Baltimore, found that one way to cut down on unnecessary e-mails is to hold a 10- to 15-minute staff meeting each morning so everyone can give a quick update on what they're working on or need help with. "We've been doing this for years now, and I've so far found it to be effective," Goldsmith said.

Many employees will automatically send an e-mail even if that's not the best way to get their question answered. "It's tempting to fire off an e-mail whenever we think of something, but I try to ask myself, 'Can I figure this out myself?' before sending an e-mail," Panall said.

Managers should encourage employees to think twice before hitting send. When staff sends an internal e-mail at Test Prep Insight, an online education company based in Reno, Nev., there is an eight-minute delay before the e-mail actually lands in the recipient's inbox. "This generally means if you can't afford to wait eight minutes for a reply, you need to pick up the phone and call," said CEO John Ross.

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. 



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