Exposed: email's worst habits

We explain how email's value as a corporate facilitator can be vastly improved.

The cost of email inefficiency - where employees spend more and more time assessing, managing and responding to email - is costing UK businesses.

Waterford Technologies' research finds that employees spend on average two hours a day 'doing' email. This equates to 55 days a year - or 11 working weeks for every email user.

When translated into costs for an organisation, the figures are alarming. Based on an organisation with 1,000 employees earning an average of £25,000 a year, with each employee taking one minute to read 40 emails and taking four minutes to create and send 20 emails a day, the estimated cost to the organisation of assessing, managing and responding to email is £7.5m. The estimated cost does not include the cost of email misuse and storage.

So at their very worst, an organisation's bad emailers can be as disruptive as hackers and spammers operating from the outside. Both phenomena waste staff time and tax enterprise resources; yet few companies have safeguards in place to protect against the deleterious impact of bad emailers. 

As an email management consultant, I've gathered some enlightening insights into email usage. What surprises is the extent to which 'bad habits' are repeated continuously. Not many enterprises have seen the sense in tutoring their staff to use email well and effectively, and unlearn the thoughtless habits they perpetuate.

Most common instances of bad email practice are probably not going to bring the company to a grinding halt in the same way that a hacker's denial-of-service attack can. They consist of small, irksome things; however, in their totality they do impair commercial efficacy - and reduce the value IT delivers to the business.

Bad habits are often borne as much of unconscious imitation as wilful neglect or laziness. So, how do you turn bad emailers into good emailers? And, as importantly, how do you turn good emailers into practice leaders who will set an example that others will follow? The majority of these habits can be eradicated by putting simple processes in place that can help save companies money, time, and face. Here we identify the 'Top 10 Worst Email Habits' that are currently blighting UK plc; but first, let's survey some examples of good practice…

Write clear emails 

Emails where actions are clearly stated - for example, in the subject line - means that the recipient understands what is required of them and they will be less likely to come back to the sender (via email!) because of the confusion. Also, ensure that the spell check facility is activated before pressing Send.

Get off mailing lists

Employees should unsubscribe from newsletters or mailing lists that they don't read so that they don't waste work time reading or deleting junk emails. 

Have a real conversation

Employees should, where possible, pick up the telephone or get up and talk to a colleague rather than sending an email. Drafting an email that asks a simple question can often take two or three times as long as a brief telephone conversation.

Avoid personal emails

This is a rather contentious issue - but let's get real here. Employees should avoid writing and responding to personal emails - they distract them from productive activities for work, and clutter-up Inboxes. Now that so many of us have home email and Web email - not to mention mobile texting - there is scant excuse for using a primary work tool to exchange non-work-related messages with friends and family.

Review who will receive the email

Before clicking the Send button, senders should consider whether they need to send the email to all the people listed. The use of the CC line in email is one of the greatest contributing factors to ever-growing inboxes. Unnecessary CCing does not ensure wide circulation of your golden messages: increasingly, recipients will delete them unread if they decide they are irrelevant.

Name that attachment

If you must send attachments, ensure that they have clear and helpful filenames - not just some cryptic catch-all like 'accounts spreadsheet 1' or 'sales powerpoint'.

Full signatures

Make it easy for colleagues to call you by including full (and official) job title and contact details in your email signatures. Avoid leaving it blank.

The art of smart emailing 

Common-sense dos and don'ts can form the basis of a good emailing policy.

The policy should be easily available to all staff - maybe as part of induction processes, their pre-designated company browser links, or on a SharePoint site.

They can also be made an adjunct to Acceptable Usage Policies (AUPs) which would also contain guidance on using company Web access. 

Which email bad practices do you find most annoying? See our online poll at www.theiet.org/informationpro.

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