Survey: Work E-mail Needs Overhaul

By SHRM Online staff Jun 18, 2012

Middle managers typically spend the equivalent of 2.5 workweeks annually on irrelevant e-mail, but they don’t want their ability to use e-mail limited or interrupted in any way, according to research findings released June 2012.

Instead, they say, workplace e-mail needs an overhaul, according to an online survey of 1,300 corporate executives, middle managers, supervisors and nonsupervising employees at Fortune 1,000 companies. The survey was conducted in February and March 2012 by The Grossman Group, a communications consultancy, and LCWA Research Group.

Slightly more than half of middle managers and supervisors and 48 percent of other employees want the flexibility to access work-related e-mail after hours to stay in the loop, the survey found. Such access helps them prepare for the next business day, said 51 percent of middle managers, 45 percent of supervisors and 47 percent of other employees.

“We’ve seen companies around the world experimenting with e-mail black-outs or time-outs,” said David Grossman, founder and CEO of The Grossman Group. “However, our research reveals that’s not the most effective approach,” he stated in a news release.

In fact, 84 percent of executives, 83 percent of middle managers and 77 percent of other employees say e-mail is an effective, necessary communication tool. It is e-mail misbehavior that affects their level of engagement.

What middle managers want, according to the findings, is an organizationwide e-mail etiquette policy that helps them stem the engulfing tide of irrelevant e-mail. Sixty-one percent of executives, 55 percent of middle managers and 40 percent of nonsupervising employees said such policies reinforcing e-mail etiquette rules would be very effective in their organizations.

“We know employees are overloaded by their inboxes,” said Grossman, author of the free book, The Definitive Guide to Taming the Email Monster: Eliminating Email and What You Can Do About It, (The Grossman Group, January 2012). “And it’s causing them stress. Yet our research shows it’s e-mail misbehavior that needs to be addressed.”

Some of the top issues respondents have with work-related e-mails:

  • Too many back-and-forth replies—34 percent of middle managers; 30 percent of nonsupervising employees.
  • Using e-mail when a meeting or phone call would be more appropriate—32 percent of middle managers; 19 percent of nonsupervising employees.
  • Using “reply all”—29 percent, 26 percent.
  • Poorly written or unclear e-mails—26 percent, 24 percent.
  • Copying others unnecessarily—25 percent, 21 percent.
  • Hiding behind e-mail for difficult conversations—17 percent, 15 percent.
  • Irrelevant e-mails—17 percent, 19 percent.
  • Sharing e-mail with unintended audiences, such as media and other co-workers—15 percent, 10 percent.
  • Wordiness—15 percent, 12 percent.
  • Containing no call to action—9 percent, 7 percent.
  • *No parameters or rules for company e-mail use—7 percent, 6 percent.

Related Articles:

Workplace Internet Bans Worry Generation Y, HR News, June 2008

Company Ban on Friday Internal E-mails Still Working, HR News, August 2007

Related Resources:

E-mails, SHRM Templates and Tools, Sample Policies

Express Request: SHRM members can receive additional information on this topic. Visit our Express Request service and select key term Etiquette: E-mail in the Technology section.


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