Hidden Costs of Email Overload & The Benefits of an Improved IC Strategy
— June 12th, 2023
Email is a powerful communication tool. But as the saying goes: “too much of a good thing…” Overloaded inboxes could hold the keys to unrivaled success, and an overwhelmed employee would not even notice it.
Email has been an effective communication channel for decades, and it continues to be the most favored channel in the workplace. But email’s popularity means that employees often face cluttered inboxes, leading to drops in productivity and rising stress levels.
Email should have a prominent place in any internal communications strategy but a truly effective strategy needs to take a balanced approach with multiple channels. This will help to reduce the dependence on a single communication method.
Free Guide: How to Get Workplace Email Communication Right
What does email overload in the workplace look like?
Email overload is a person’s inability to manage their inbox, to the point where it becomes completely overwhelming. A build-up of emails can happen quickly—the average worker can receive up to 120 emails each day.
Despite the growth in other communications tools—instant messaging, intranet, digital signage—internal email remains the most widely used tool for workplace communication. But this is problematic. An internal communications strategy that relies too heavily on email risks diluting its effectiveness with messages lost in the depths of employee inboxes. A more comprehensive, nuanced approach is needed.
Why effective internal communication for businesses is so important
A successful internal communications strategy is vital for any organization, regardless of size. Effective communication helps build a connected workforce; it promotes engagement and employee morale. Happier, engaged employees work harder and feel more purpose within a company, which ultimately leads to higher profit margins, competitive advantage and brand reputation.
What are the hidden costs of too many emails?
Email overload isn’t just an annoyance that will go away, like a fly buzzing around your head. It’s much more than that. Too many emails arriving into the inbox day after day can have a detrimental effect on how employees feel about work. People can begin to dread starting work every morning because they know they’re facing an overloaded inbox.
In fact, 33% of workers said email overload could be a factor in them leaving a job. That may sound drastic, but email overload can take a toll on every aspect of a worker’s day.
Lost productivity and reduced efficiency
The average worker spends an estimated 28 percent of their week managing email. That’s over one day of the workweek just spent reading and answering emails. Yes, email is a key communications tool, but no one task should take up this amount of time.
In some organizations, employees are expected to respond to emails immediately. This is not practical, particularly when a person is dealing with a barrage of emails. Constant emails can interrupt a worker’s flow, distract them from a critical task, cause them to forget what they were working on, or force them into mistakes.
Increased stress and decreased employee well-being
An overloaded inbox will soon start to feel like an insurmountable challenge. By not being able to manage their email workers can feel overwhelmed. They may be missing important emails or not responding to critical messages, and their managers are beginning to notice. This can affect their confidence and leads directly to heightened stress levels.
We know burnout is real and it’s a growing problem. Globally, worker burnout rose to 40% in 2023 (this figure was 43% among US workers). Consistent, unrelenting stress and feelings of being overwhelmed can result in burnout, and its effects are far-reaching.
- Lost productivity
- Disengaged workers
- Employee churn
Missed opportunities and decreased collaboration
As more and more emails arrive, earlier, important messages that haven’t been dealt with move deeper into the inbox. They become all but invisible at this stage. Employees with overloaded inboxes are inevitably missing these emails, or at best, replying to them too late.
In the fast-paced digital workplace this failure to respond quickly, or at all, takes a toll on decision making and collaboration, and can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
What is the role of internal communications and email?
An effective internal communications strategy needs to reach and engage with all employees. The goal of any internal communications team is to communicate, but it isn’t that simple. There’s never been more choice when it comes to communication tools. It can be difficult to determine which methods will work best.
- Messaging apps
- Project management apps
- Video conference platforms
- Bulletin boards
- Digital signage
- Mobile apps
Outline the rules of communication
A well-structured, thoughtful internal communications strategy shouldn’t rely entirely on one tool. It should use a combination of communication methods. By all means, email can still be the hero tool, but support it with other apps and communication methods.
Define how each communication tool should be used. In this way, no one communications tool becomes overloaded. Here’s an example of how the different tools can be used:
- Messaging apps for immediate, urgent requests
- Emails for company-wide important announcements and newsletters
- Project management apps for all project-specific communications
- Intranets for company news
- Bulletin boards for day-to-day information
- Digital signage for in-office employees, or employees without access to email
- Mobile apps for disconnected/field workers
Implement a better internal communication strategy with email at its core
Once you’ve agreed how each channel will be used you need to create a set of clear guidelines that can be shared throughout the organization. Work with employees to build this common-sense guide. Get their input on dos and don’ts of communication. Simple things like not hitting ‘reply all’ to an email too hastily—does everyone really need to see this reply? Can I ask my coworker this simple question in a different way other than email?
Help employees better manage their inbox
Within the communications guide, consider adding some helpful steps to managing an overloaded inbox. This guide should be full of practical tips that can help employees to get on top of their creaking inboxes.
#1 Check emails at set times during the day
to avoid getting distracted throughout the day schedule set times during the day—first thing in the morning, right before lunch, an hour before finishing up for the day—to check email. This stops employees from constantly checking their emails all day.
#2 Turn off notifications
If they’re checking their emails at set times employees can switch off those persistent notifications—sound, pop ups. This will help them to maintain their focus as they won’t be interrupted by incoming mail.
#3 Employ the 4Ds model
This favored approach is a great way to organize an overloaded inbox. The 4 Ds are—do it, delegate it, defer it, delete it. This means that one way or another employees will take action on every email that arrives in their inbox. If they are deferring the email make sure to include guidance on checking all deferred emails at more appropriate times, at which point they can act on the email.
#4 Use filters
Set up rules and filters to organize incoming emails. By categorizing emails employees are avoiding all the emails landing in their inbox, and it’s more likely they will see important emails.
#5 Unsubscribe to unnecessary newsletters
We’ve all been there, we see a newsletter or insights that we think will be useful to our jobs and we sign up to receive regular emails. But months later all of these emails are just adding clutter to an inbox. Employees should take time to unsubscribe from these emails (keep the ones they truly get value from). This can be done by clicking the unsubscribe button which should be at the bottom of every email.
A common-sense approach to internal communication
Internal communicators have an important role to play in overall communications in an organization. They need to talk-the-talk too (so to speak!). Start by setting clear guidelines for general company communication.
Make the guide as comprehensive as possible. But common-sense does need to prevail. The guide should be clear and shared widely. You want everyone to get on board with these guidelines. Buy-in will be essential to its success.
Here are some ways in which you can create a more effective internal communication strategy.
- Be consistent with your communication: establish a pattern and stick with it. With a set routine workers will know when to expect certain messaging, like for example, a monthly newsletter which is sent at the beginning of each month. Regular communications will help to maintain employee interest too, which is great for engagement.
- Avoid overloading workers with information: every piece of news does not need to be imparted immediately. Some communication is urgent, and that’s fine, be sure to communicate that in a timely manner, but there is no need to send email after email of non-urgent announcements. Non-urgent announcements can be compiled for the monthly newsletter, for example. By overloading employees inboxes, important emails can go unnoticed.
- Make sure communications reach all employees: it’s easier than ever to send extremely targeted emails. Segment your audience into departments, seniority, job titles and tailor your messaging to these groups. Ensure your emails are concise and mobile-friendly, particularly for field workers or frontline employees who check emails on their smartphones.
- Establish two-way channels for feedback: involve employees in your internal communications strategy. Find out what channels work for them and how they feel about the way you communicate. Email platforms like Poppulo’s Harmony make it easy to gauge feedback with surveys and two-way communication.
- Track and measure: with any strategy you need to know if it’s working. Make use of tools that help you to assess engagement rates, as well as more advanced technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) to get insights into your content and how it’s performing.
Constantly monitoring and auditing will help you to streamline your strategy and make necessary improvements. Coupled with employee feedback, these insights can guide you towards an effective communications strategy that keeps employees engaged and doesn’t overwhelm them.
Poppulo's email solution
At Poppulo we understand the importance of good communication. We’ve been building communications tools and platforms for almost 30 years. This experience has culminated in our Harmony platform, a platform for how communications need to be today.
With Harmony, we’ve devised a platform that helps internal communications teams to get the most from email, without falling into the pitfall of overloading employees.
Send personalized content to targeted audiences. Highly relevant emails are a great way to increase engagement.
Clean email templates
Ensure consistent and effective communication with on-demand templates. Templates can help to speed up the communication process, and make sure you’re providing a consistent message.
Manage every email campaign, and keep track of content performance. With analytics you can identify the messages that are performing well and delivering engagement. You can also more easily see if your changes or tweaks are having an impact.
An effective internal communications strategy needs to be comprehensive, accessible, inclusive and trackable. Focusing on a single communications channel, like email, leads to message dilution, while at the same time causing unnecessary stress to employees who may struggle to manage hefty inboxes. A rounded communications strategy, using multiple channels, ensures the right message gets to the right person, at the right time, in the right format.
Platforms like Poppulo’s Harmony can empower an internal communications team, giving them the tools and insights they need to transform internal communications.