Do you love or hate emails? I am certainly in the latter category. Information overload is the disease of the 21st century. In the world and on average, workers spend 28% of their time to read and answer emails, according to a study from McKinsey published in 2012. On a 10-hour workday basis, it represents about 3 hours per day and more than one day per week! Besides, the social pressure for a fast answer is extremely intense. 70% of people expected their co-workers to respond to their emails within 4 hours, according to a poll from Toister Performance Solutions released in 2015.
Why have emails, which did not even exist before 1990’s, take such a huge place in our life?
Let’s imagine for a second how firm’s performances could increase by limiting the number of messages. They would get extra-days of work from their employees for free. On the other side, imagine what employees could do with a 3 day-week-end… each week.
Of course, all emails are not always useless or a waste of time. They allow to coordinate the work of distant teams, to share information rapidly or to keep a record of important discussions. But they also reveal the dark side of modern management and over-communication. When a worker receives more than 100 emails per day, what does that imply? Does that mean that the management wants to monitor every task and is not able to truly delegate? Does that mean that workers and managers are afraid by not keeping a record of their actions and of their relationships in case of need, for instance for potential lawsuits? Does that mean that hierarchy is not clear and that people prefer to send emails to more people in order to be sure to reach the good person? Or does that mean that nobody is not able anymore to select what is important and what is not, depending on each situation?
We cannot anymore stay passive in front of those questions and say: “oh, that is the way it works now”. Because this stream of emails imposes a constant exposure to stress and distracts people from their core job. In 2011, Atos, an informatics company with 76.000 employees in 47 countries, decided to progressively eliminate emails. Between 2011 and 2013, the average number of daily emails per employee collapsed from 100 to 40. And without impacting the business. On the contrary, the operating margin of the firm increased and administrative costs were reduced. It is impossible to know exactly the impact on this new “zero-email” policy on the business. But we can be sure that this had an impact on the stress of employees. In 2012, researchers from Irvine, the University of California and the U.S. Army found that blocking emails reduces the stress of workers and increases their productivity.
Fortunately, simple alternatives to emails exist. Instead of sending an email to a co-worker next time, why not pick-up the phone or go and see someone in the office next door?