E-mails -a “Pernicious phenomonen” that now needs to be curtailed?

At the recent CIPD conference in Dublin “Shaping engagement and well being to improve performance”, Prof Cary Cooper, University of Manchester spoke of the “pernicious”  nature  of e-mails in our lives. He strongly believes that the use of e-mails is negatively effecting both our work lives and our home lives.  In my  own training work in various companies, I too have found that the biggest stress people often mention is that of an overload of e-mails and that they are feeling swamped much of the time. People are finding that the volume of e-mails is adding an extra work load and this is interfering with them “getting on” with the work they need to do and so feeling stressed.

Many of us  are checking e-mails, at night, in the morning, at weekends and so on and they are  increasingly taking up more and more of our lives, and especially our so called “free time”. Time that previously was for rest and relaxation and time off from work.

Why is this?

The most obvious reason is that our phones allow us to have this easy access to our e-mails and most of us  have the settings turned on to receive e mails 24/7. Generally, we all have our phones with us at all times and so we will of course check the e- mails. Whilst we may have separate work phones -we do seem to  tend to check these too-just in case we miss anything!

Another issue that is now commonplace is that when someone sends an e-mail, there is a tendency to “cc” the e mail to other colleagues, a boss or anyone else we feel may be vaguely interested! This can  be because we wish others to see what we are doing and Cary Cooper  described this as  the “peacock effect”; look at me and what I am doing! Of course it may be necessary to include others in the e-mail, but perhaps we can be more restrained in this regard and report or tell our boss/colleagues or whoever may be interested  at the next meeting. Or we could of course ring, Skype or go talk to the person, rather than send another e-mail!

We all have a tendency to “over communicate” these days. We want everyone to know everything that is going on and this has become a cultural phenomenon, especially with the surge in the use of social media.  E-mails allow us to do communicate easily, and so we do -but they can be part of the over-communication phenomonen.

The effects?

In my experience in  delivering wellness & stress management workshops, consistently the issue of e-mails arises. People are often feeling inundated with e-mails and find that it is difficult to get on with the work they have to do because they are handling e-mails. This is time consuming, takes away from what they are actually trying to do and causes them to feel distracted in their work. In addition, e-mails are often checked in the evening and at weekends so there is less to do the following day and to not let them “build up”.

What can we do?

Start to develop better hygiene around e mails. To ask ourselves do we really need to send this e mail, could we talk or Skype instead or could the communication wait till the next forum when we do meet our colleagues. Perhaps offices need to have an e-mail policy, which outlines when they are to be used and how they are to be used efficiently with a view to reducing the volumes. We all need to become more aware of who we are e mailing, who we are including in the communication and really looking at what is necessary and what could wait till the next opportunity to meet or talk. One worker told me about his own approach which he described as the 3 D Model. This model, I understand he created himself but involves either deleting, delegating or dealing with the e-mail.



Any other tips about how to manage and utilise e mails all very welcome-let me know your views !


Monica Haughey July 2016