Recent Study Exposes Significant Impact on Productivity
Those were the questions the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) asked their members around the globe recently. Any guesses about their responses? Their answers, in a nutshell were: Yes, Yes, Yes, too much. I’ve been hearing similar refrains from colleagues and clients, so, to learn more, I spoke with the President of the IABC, Julie Freeman, about the study.
“We wanted to take a pulse of our membership and the results were clear—most people are struggling with how to manage it all and it’s having a significant impact on productivity around the world. An overwhelming majority (85 percent) said that it was having a negative impact at least some of the time. It was even higher (93 percent) for users of Blackberry devices and other personal digital assistants (PDAs).”
According to the study, the biggest culprits when it comes to the source of email overload are:
And talk about the tail wagging the dog…81 percent leave their e-mail open all day, 40 percent spend at least two hours daily responding to e-mail and 35 percent spent 3 hours or more! For some people, it’s almost an addiction. One CIO I know has catalogued over 26,000 emails on his computer. If there was a 12-step program for e-mail addicts, he’d be a candidate for the program.
I was intrigued by the geographic breakdown of the study. For example, the US, Canada, Europe and the Asia/Pacific region all scored high (with the US highest by a nose) in the negative impact on productivity category (roughly 45 percent saying it “sometimes” had a negative affect). But Mexico and South America ranked highest (43 percent saying it “regularly” had a negative impact). Freeman speculated, “We will conduct more research on these numbers but I might hypothesize that in more social cultures, they may use e-mail more. In addition, if they don’t have access to home computers or reliable phone lines in their personal lives, they may e-mail more at work.”
So, what are the common practices that get us into trouble? Freeman responds, “My son, who is a lawyer, thinks that the ‘Reply All’ button will be the end of Western Civilization! Personally, it’s one of my pet peeves, too. It really irks me when I receive an invitation to a meeting, for example, and for the next week I receive everyone’s replies. I end up opening fifteen subsequent emails saying, ‘I can come’. I frankly don’t care and it’s a waste of my time.”
Then there is the “CC” and the “Blind CC” button, which is a hold over from the days when people actually did “carbon copy” someone. Today, it often serves as a “CYA” button, so you can leave a paper trail you can use to defend yourself later, should the need arise. While copying people is often efficient and useful to keep them informed, in some companies this practice has run off the rails of common sense. There are enough CYA emails flying around to supply the restrooms with paper for months.
There is no single answer when it comes to putting a lid on the problem. Some companies have instituted “No e-mail Fridays” in an attempt to force people to think through how they communicate. Freeman notes, “It will be interesting to see if that has any affect. It could be helpful. Now, we are becoming so reactive, it may make people aware of the need to get up and go down the hall to talk to someone face-to-face, or take time to plan.
Companies have policies designed to protect their systems from viruses, such as not opening attachments or prohibiting instant messaging. And of course, they have policies against inappropriate use of the Internet, but they don’t seem to have much in place about how to use e-mail effectively. This might be a huge, new growth area for educating employees. The answer, I think, is self-discipline for both the sender and the receiver.”
Here are a few common sense tips to keep in mind:
(For more information on the IABC study, call 415-544-4700, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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- Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.
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