E-mails Damaging Efficiency
January 9 2003 - Managers are being deluged by e-mails, according to a survey by the British Computer Society (BCS). The survey of senior IT managers reveals that dealing with e-mails uses up an average of two hours of executive time each day. Moreover, almost a third of this time is spent on irrelevant and poor quality messages.
Information Overload: Organisation and Personal Strategies, the report researched by the BCS and Henley Management College, paints an alarming picture of managers sinking gradually under a burden of e-mail that demands a growing proportion of their time in assessment and response. Three out of four respondents to the survey felt the volume of information received had a negative impact on the effectiveness of staff, reduced productivity and the quality of company communication. In particular, it was also viewed as having a detrimental effect on individual stress levels.
Respondents to the survey were asked to approximate how much time they spent on a list of seven common management tasks in an average working day of 8.5 hours. Whilst meetings took up the largest amount of time (2.8 hours on average), dealing with e-mail came second with an average of 1.7 hours spent on this activity. Accessing information from the internet accounted for a further 0.75 of an hour.
Managers reported receiving an average of 52 e-mails a day with 7% receiving 100 e-mails a day or more. Four out of five respondents have remote access to their e-mail account. Just 14% use a PA to manage their e-mails.
Respondents felt that fewer than half of e-mails (42%) deserved a response. 35% were read for information only and nearly a quarter were deleted immediately. Breakdown in terms of importance:
- 30% of e-mails were classified as essential
- 37% as important
- 33% as irrelevant or unnecessary
Managers were not impressed by the quality of the e-mails they received. Almost 70% of respondents felt that fewer than half of the e-mails they received were good quality, i.e. concisely written; clear action requested; attachments explained; appropriate address list attached; relevant chains of earlier correspondence included.
According to BCS Chief Executive David Clarke, "While there is growing recognition within corporate Britain of the problem of information overload, initiatives to reduce its impact are still not widespread. Although half of UK organisations now give their staff general IT core skills training leading to, for example, the BCS's European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification, our research shows that only one in five of them provide training in effective use of e-mail or the Internet. And less than one in four of organisations provide their staff with training in prioritisation and time management. No wonder British companies continue to waste billions of pounds annually in IT system investment because of inefficient usage and under trained staff.
"Yet prior research by Dr Sharm Manwani of Henley Management College has identified three major strategies for dealing with information overload: organisation policies, filtering technology and training for individuals. Our latest survey shows that many organisations are not fully adopting these strategies."
They may have reservations about the quality and volume of e-mails received but the vast majority of respondents (81%) still regard e-mail as the communications technology which has had the most positive impact on the way they carry out their job - along with the Internet and the mobile phone.
See also: E-mails are a threat to health
E-mail @nd Business Letter Writing
by Lynn Brittney
E-mail has produced a more relaxed attitude to written communication but letters are still important in formal circumstances and for security. This is a reference book that understands this transition.
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