E-mail overload overhyped, study states

Feeling swamped at work by e-mail? You just might be alone.

New research suggests the common notion that workers are burdened by overflowing inboxes at work is a myth.

In fact, the majority of American workers who have access to e-mail at work receive just 10 or fewer e-mails per day according to E-mail at Work, a study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. And 65 per cent described their e-mail load as “not a problem whatsoever.”

The findings came as a surprise even to the author of the study. Deborah Fallows, a senior research fellow at Pew, said the perception that workers are swamped in a quagmire of e-mail comes from a very vocal minority.

“A small number of the truly inundated work e-mailers have created most of the buzz about e-mail overload,” said Fallows.

According to her research, only six per cent of employees with e-mail access reported receiving more than 50 messages per day.

Fallows research suggests that not only are staff not being inundated with e-mail, they’re also not spending very much time dealing with it in their day-to-day activities.

Three-quarters spend an hour or less on their daily e-mail. That includes almost 25 per cent who log fewer than 15 minutes a day. Once again, a very small minority spend a very large amount of time on e-mail — just four per cent spend more than four hours per day doing e-mail.

About half of all workers said their volume has remained steady over the last year and about half said it has increased. Twenty per cent said it had increased “a great deal.”

Fallows said logging onto e-mail is as easy, or easier, than checking voice-mail. Nearly 90 per cent of workers check their inboxes everyday, and most (70 per cent) check at least several times per day.

E-mail software that is always on has enabled about 25 per cent of workers to “constantly” check their e-mail.

So how long is it taking staff to respond to an e-mail once it comes in? Nearly half (44 per cent) respond to most e-mail as soon as it comes in. Another 38 per cent answer it by the end of the day and 10 per cent answer within a few days. Interestingly, three per cent never answer e-mail they know they “should” respond to. One heavily-burdened executive told Fallows, “Eventually, if it’s important enough, they’ll send it again or telephone.”

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