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Jun 23, 2015

Email In The Workplace: The Biggest Training Challenge

The Top 3 email habits that contribute significantly to email time suck and some tips on how to help employees combat them.


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"Email" is the only organization-wide technology that affects every employee. Across departments, roles, and titles, it is the great corporate leveler. The recent "FewClix Email Time Suck Survey" conducted by Kelton Global found that the average American spends 90 minutes with email every day! Pew Research finds that 61 percent of professionals view email as the most important workplace tool. Not focusing on the time employees spend with email is the biggest mistake a company can make.

The FewClix survey also found that email and stress are related. For example, 16 percent of the respondents revealed that their stress levels increased as the number of messages in their inbox increased. More significantly, 22 percent revealed that they feel disorganized when their inbox is disorganized. Unfortunately, the future looks bleak, as the challenges associated with email are predicted to get worse. The 2013-2017 Email Statistics Report, by The Radicati Group, predicts that corporate email volume will increase from 100 billion emails a day in 2013 to 132 billion in 2017. That is a whopping 32 percent increase in four years!

The writing on the wall is clear—productivity losses and workplace stress caused by email are growing issues and organizations need to act quickly. In order to act, you first have to understand what is causing employees to spend so much time with email and what common email habits need to be modified. If you want to tackle the email time suck and win, you cannot overlook any email habit, however commonplace it may be.

Here are the top three email habits that contribute significantly to the email time suck and some tips on how to help your company’s employees combat them.

Poor Habit #1: Using Your Inbox as a To-Do List

The Holy Grail for most professionals is achieving and maintaining a lean, or even empty, inbox (Inbox Zero). The thinking behind this behavior is that an empty inbox signifies completed tasks. Plus, if, as noted above, more emails = more stress, then it’s tempting for employees to think that zero emails = zero stress. However, the desire to achieve a lean inbox encourages and fosters other poor email habits, such as the desire to instantly respond to an email so it can be filed away. This creates a temptation for employees to sacrifice quality of responses in the quest to speedily reply and get the quantity of their inbox down. Another example: Employees obsessed with keeping only pending/in-progress email tasks in their inbox can lose sight of larger priorities and more important items on their to-do list that exist outside of their inbox.

The Fix: Encourage employees to focus on goals that are important to them and the tasks they need to complete to accomplish these goals. Constantly educate employees and have conversations to understand how their email behavior is affecting their productivity. Finally, provide your employees with effective and easy-to-use task management tools and training.

Poor Habit #2: Sorting and Filing Emails into Folders

"Folders are bad? Are you kidding?" If this is your reaction, I completely understand! The unquestioned behemoth of "email organization" standard practice is the use of folders. We organize emails in folders for two reasons: the need to maintain a clean inbox and the fact that we are petrified of not being able to find an email (or find it quickly) when we need it. Unfortunately for all the "folder-dependent" employees out there, the behavior of creating multiple folders and devoting time to sorting/filing emails is counterproductive. The problem is that not many emails fit exclusively into any one folder. Many can be filed into more than one folder, and that creates more work in two ways: first, time spent organizing and filing messages, and then, more time spent looking for these messages when they are needed.

The Fix: Ensure that employees know how to effectively use your company’s email client’s native search capabilities. If you feel these are inadequate or too complex, use an intelligent and easy-to-use search tool. In training conversations, talk to employees about how ensuring emails are perfectly filed will become increasingly difficult as they climb the corporate ladder, so it’s important to kick this bad habit early.

Poor Habit #3: Email ALWAYS on

Allowing employees to push email to their mobile devices is a double-edged sword: It helps accomplish tasks quickly and keeps teams connected, but it also is distracting. You may be more concerned that employees are distracted by their social media accounts, but that’s not true. According to the FewClix survey, Americans devote more time to email every day than they do to social media. This means you should be worried about employees who access email via their phones (and even respond) when they should not—for example, during meetings. In addition, emails sent while involved in a more important activity are likely to be sloppier and less thoughtful. No one wins!

The Fix: Ask that employees refrain from checking email during meetings or while engaged in other, more important activities. Declaring "no email zones" or "no email times" and encouraging leaders to lead by example are also great ways to keep email in its place.

The key to changing all of the above email habits and other unproductive behavior associated with email is, you guessed right, training! Unfortunately, most organizations take email for granted and almost never include "email habits" as part of their onboarding programs. Education is key to changing behavior and especially with email, where old habits die hard, a constant stream of education and measurement is a must.

If you are asking, "Is going through the pain and discomfort of changing such ingrained email behavior worthwhile?" The answer is an emphatic, "YES." Here is an example. For an organization with 10,000 employees, a savings of just 10 minutes out of the time spent with email delivers 420,000 hours (52,500 person days) of savings a year, which, at an average annual cost per employee of $50,000, translates into savings of more than $10 million a year! The benefits far outweigh the costs.

Ravin Carr is Chief Commercial Officer at GBS, the creator of FewClix for Outlook.

Copyright © 2015, Training magazine . All rights reserved.

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