E-mail, e is for exhausting

Exhausted by email?Does e-mail no longer stand for electronic-mail but now for exhaustivng-mail?

Almost every employee dreads the morning drill when they are required to perform the tedious process of checking their email inbox. To anyone with knowledge of this experience, it seems that no good news is ever contained in these missives, and that much of the time they are of little use, or worse, distractive of more important matters.

Of course, there are legitimate, practical, business reasons to send and receive emails. Nevertheless, employees, including many senior ones, seem to think that emails are significant in themselves. They fail to recognize that the system is just a tool and should be treated as such.


The Problem Restated

Everyone in the communications chain understands that there is significant value to emails. They can be a fast and effective method of communication. The disconnect occurs when inordinate amounts of time and effort are utilized in merely answering emails and not addressing the underlying issues. In short, the users should realize that the memos are not an end in themselves; they are actually impediments to the real work.

The problem seems intractable but there are benefits that accrue to having an efficient and organized method for dealing with one’s email inbox and for requiring that subordinates follow the same process.

The real value of emails is rapid, efficient communication. They are most effective when kept short and to the point. A reminder, a “heads-up” or simple requests for a document are reasonable reasons to send an email. They should in no way be substituted for live communication on pressing, important or complicated matters.


The Solution?

It would be nice if a memo (via email) could be circulated that would immediately and permanently correct this problem. Unfortunately, people are creatures of habit and have learned a particular way to deal with emails.

As usual with new ideas, it will be necessary to monitor, evaluate and follow up on any procedures that you implement. Not incidentally, you must safeguard against your own actions in this regard to these procedures and set a proper example.

Here are five steps to help alleviate the email burden that is being placed on you and your employees. Please note that most of the actions are reactive but that the most important one, the last, is proactive. Organizing and prioritizing this seemingly simple task can pay dividends in productivity and morale for you and for your employees.

  1. Deal with emergencies first, preferably without responding by email.

  2. Handle any items immediately that can be quickly and definitively resolved in under two minutes.

  3. Delegate appropriate items to the relevant subordinates.

  4. Take notes on a real notepad so you don’t have to revisit your mailbox.

  5. Don’t be part of the problem. Limit your emails and the amount of info transmitted.


The Real Solution

Do not discount the morale destroying effect of a daily mass of emails that stop an employee from efficiently performing his duties. Many employees spend the first two to three hours of their workday dealing with trivial email matters.

Combine these effects with meetings that cover the same ground and an organization can grind to a halt. Effective employee motivation is a complex combination of rewards and threats. Emails serve no purpose in this complex interplay.

The real solution to solving email fatigue is a management issue. The senior people in an organization must deal with this problem in an ongoing manner. Identifying problem employees who send unnecessary emails is the first step and ruthlessly eliminating this unacceptable conduct is the follow up. 


About the author

Carolyn Sokol is a founder of PEOcompare.com which helps match small businesses with the right PEO companies for their particular needs. Her background is in marketing and communications, employee education and training, development of policies and procedures and the ongoing delivery of outstanding service to customers. As a frequent contributor to PEOcompare.com’s library, she writes about PEOs and how to outsource hr or outsource payroll as well as other small business interest topics.