Email is being used by bosses and employees to avoid blame, look busy and make random demands; a trend that’s damaging communication in Australian workplaces.
Greg Crowther, principal of Sydney based organisational development and communications consultancy Callidus Partners, says several factors are driving the email behaviour.
“Smart technology such as Blackberries and iPhones means you can send emails anywhere, anytime. That means more of us are using email as our first option for communication.
“Anecdotal evidence shows there is an increasing expectation that employees are always contactable. This leads people to constantly check their emails to make sure the latest demand from a boss or colleague is met. Ironically, the more emails that flow back and forth, the less likely it is that information will be absorbed,” says Crowther.
Employees are not alone in being at the receiving end of email demands. Bosses can also be victims of email overload, with employees bombarding them with messages that demand quick responses to issues that need deeper consideration.
“Email overloading erodes efficiency, productivity and good decision making,” says Crowther.
Quoting research from the University of Loughborough in the UK, Greg Crowther says it takes an average of 64 seconds for a person to recover their train of thought after interruption by email. That equates to over 8 hours a week spent just regaining their train of thought.
“Poorly worded emails, along with the expectation that the receiver responds immediately, are causes of increased workplace stress. This situation has led to email being named the third major reason for workplace stress, behind organisational change and competing deadlines,” says Crowther.
The good news is that communications problems caused by email overload can be turned around. To improve communications, especially in the use of email, Greg Crowther offers some tips:
• Have leaders, managers and supervisors take the lead in modelling clear, concise emails.
• Help employees make the right choice of communication channels before they send a message (email, phone, meeting, text, twitter or live chat).
• Offer training on email filing and time management.
• Investigate the productivity implications and communication risks of poor email practices.
• Avoid a ‘one size fits all’ rule about emails, as employees’ roles vary.
Crowther says that, even though mass-access email has been with us since the mid 1990’s, we are still learning how to manage it.
“When it comes to email communication, we recommend that less is more”.