REMS: Ranking Email Management Styles

Organisations’ Email Costs

Prof Tom Jackson

EmailWe are currently working on a new Email Application to improve email communication within the workplace. The project is funded by Loughborough University and will be rolled out across the University in July 2013.

The overall aim of the research that has taken place since 1998 is to explore the effect of email on employees.  Back in 2002, Jackson, Dawson and Wilson evaluated the effect of email interruptions within the workplace.  Jackson et al. found that 70% of emails dealt with were viewed within six seconds, and there was an interrupt recovery time of 64 seconds. This means it takes 64 seconds to get back into the work you were doing before the email interruption.

The findings highlight (worst case) that if it takes on average one and a half minutes to read and recover from an email and the employee is interrupted every five minutes, then an employee could have up to ninety-six interruptions in a normal eight hour working day. Our recent research looked at the effect of interruptions on tasks, and the concept of email addiction within the workplace. The results showed that email interruptions have a negative time impact upon employees and that both interrupt handling and recovery time exists. A typical task takes one third longer than undertaking a task with no email interruptions. The data showed clinical characteristics classify 12% of email addicts, and behavioural characteristics classify 15% of email addicts in the workplace.  The cost of email to an organisation can be calculated by using this formula – cost of reading email = (t1 + t2)*w*n, where:

  • t1 is the time taken to read all messages received (minutes)
  • t2 is the total interrupt recovery time (minutes)
  • w is the average employee wage per minute
  • n is the number of employees within the organisation.

Click here to download the spreadsheet to calculate the cost for your organisation

Research we have just completed at the Welsh Assembly Government looked at the physiological impact of email on the human body (taking blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol). The results showed that email does cause stress, but there are ways to cope and reduce stress. The surprising result was that if employees file their email into folders they are less likely to be stressed.

Over the years we have looked at both seminar based training and computer based training to improve email communication within the workplace. The results have shown the seminar based training is short lived and employees start to revert back to their old habits within a month of receiving training. However, computer based on-going training does not see diminishing results overtime and is the best method to improve email communication.

The proposal for Loughborough University is to go for computer based on-going training and would involve creating new software. The software would be activated or deactivated via a button that is available within the main Outlook tool bar. The software will parse all outgoing messages and score each one. The user can then see their score by clicking a button on the Outlook tool bar that will direct them to their email training web page which shows how they fair in the email league table and which areas of email communication they need to approve on. They can then select various training packages that last between 2 and 3 minutes and can be administered at their desk.

I’ve created an email cost calculator which shows you how much email costs. Or you can download the interactive spreadsheet which will help you make a case for tackling email communication within your organisation. It is based on over 15 years of research into email.