Warning Signs of Inbox Overload

With 80,000 employees receiving an average of 100 emails each in their inbox, one French communications company, Atos, found that only about 15% of the messages were actually useful. To stem the tide, Atos took the seemingly radical step of banning internal emails (BBC News). As well, the Radicati Group reports that 42% of corporate email is ignored (if you’ve ever dismissed a ‘return receipt’ request, you know what we’re talking about…).

Banning internal emails or greatly restricting email usage may not be something many companies will want to do … for reasons of practicality as well as morale. However, the productivity cost from dealing with emails may definitely require your attention. Ask yourself:

  1. When did you last check your organization’s email policies? Perhaps the better question is, “Do you have an email policy?” If you’re a manager, it’s important to give your team proper guidance to use this tool more effectively.
  2. How much email do you receive on a daily basis? A full inbox can hide important messages that truly require your attention. Do you have alerts set up to help you spot can’t-miss messages from specific people or companies?
  3. How much of your workday stress stems from a brimming email inbox? Though most of the messages probably won’t contain ‘action items,’ seeing a full inbox at the start of each day can be an emotional drag.
  4. How easily can you find/filter inboxes to find critical information? How often have you heard someone say (or have said yourself), “I’m sorry, your email got lost in my inbox”? If this happens a lot, you have a big problem.
  5. How much time is wasted because email tools, like Outlook, are open all day long? When Outlook (or another email program) is always open, it’s too tempting to check for new messages… which poses a constant distraction from productive work.

Would you benefit from implementing standard times to check and respond to email? People often feel guilty if they don’t answer an email right away. Eliminate the guilt by suggesting that everyone follow the same policy. If you’re worried about offending others, add a footer to your email signature: “I check review and answer email from 9-10am and again from 3-4pm. If you need urgent assistance, please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.”