The advent of e-mail revolutionized the way people communicate in office settings. When e-mail arrived on the scene, fax machines had already allowed the ability to send messages in print to recipients around the world, but e-mail made that ability much more efficient, convenient, and ubiquitous—not to mention cheaper.
The downside of being able to so easily send messages to people anywhere, anytime, without the need to have them available in real time, is that people send so many messages! The more important an employee is, the more e-mail he or she is likely to get. Hence the plight of many e-mail-assailed managers.
The Drain of Quickly Filling E-Mail Boxes
Receiving a deluge of e-mails every day not only means a lot of inconvenience and time spent, it can also have a big drain on performance. According to an article in Science Daily, “Research from Michigan State University shows that keeping up with email traffic places high demands on managers, which prevents them from achieving their goals and from being good leaders.” The research was led by Management Professor Russell Johnson and was published in Journal of Applied Psychology.
The study found that employees, on average, spend more than 90 minutes per day—7.5 hours per week—recovering from e-mail distractions. While managers have similar time losses, the impact of those interruptions is much more significant for managers.
When managers are distracted, they are forced to neglect their goals and often leave subordinates without sufficient guidance and supervision.
Managing the E-Mail Burden
But, just because managers get so much e-mail doesn’t mean they are doomed to suffer in the performance of their duties. Johnson recommends managers set aside certain times to review e-mail and otherwise stay focused on their core responsibilities.
If something critical comes up, it probably shouldn’t be limited to an e-mail anyway. If something absolutely needs the manager’s attention, someone will find him. The rest can wait.
Don’t assume that your staff—even your supervisory and management staff—will have the foresight and ability to manage their e-mail overload on its own.
This could be the topic of a quick in-service meeting or a lunch and learn session allowing employees to share their strategies for minimizing the demands of an ongoing e-mail onslaught.