Tuesday, February 10, 2009

“If it’s this bad at Microsoft,” Mr. Horvitz added, “it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

It’s worth a few moments to reflect upon how far we have travelled with email in the last 15 years.

Volume – in 2006, it was estimated that genuine emails are sent by 1.1 billion emails users around the world each day, with 50 billion genuine messages dispatched daily accompanied by at least 120 billion spam. (1) Email traffic is growing at between 10% and 25% per year. (2)

Size - the size of personal email records is increasing exponentially. One study reports that 27% of email-using employees have reached or exceeded the amount of storage space allowed at work. (3)

Overuse - overuse of email is impacting on user effectiveness. 59% of employed American adults admit to wasting a lot of time searching for lost email. Moreover, between 47% (those who earn less than USD35,000 annually) and 65% (those earning greater than USD75,000 per annum) admit to wasting time looking for email they know they’ve received.(4)

Productivity - email has had a profound impact on individual productivity. More than 25% of employed US adults acknowledge that the volume of email they receive causes them to fall behind in their work.(5). In 2005 the Wall Street Journal reported that white-collar workers waste 40% of their day, not because they aren’t smart but because they were never taught organizing skills to function in the modern workplace.(6) A typical knowledge worker spends about 2.5 hours per day (or roughly 30% of the work day) searching for information. (7) In a 2007 study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, such as writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming email. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.(8) “I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author of the paper. “If it’s this bad at Microsoft,” Mr. Horvitz added, “it has to be bad at other companies, too.”

Morale & Health - email causes stress. (9) According to some reports, 80% of existing health expenditure is now stress-related. (10) In 1999 it was estimated that job-related stress cost US industry USD300 billion p.a. (11) 71% of white-collar workers feel stressed about the amount of information they must process and act on while doing business; 60% feel overwhelmed.(12)

In 2005 AOL conducted a survey of 4,000 email users on email reliance, and reported ‘an obsessive-compulsive need to check email morning, noon and night.’(13)

42% of vacationers check their business email while on holiday, and 23% check it on the weekend.(14) Employees are taking an average of 1 min 44 seconds to reply to a message, with 70% of employees responding within 6 seconds! The disruption caused is 64 seconds before they get back to work; 40% of such interruptions are self-generated (i.e. not caused by the email pop up). (15)

This 2001 research confirmed the findings of a 1994 study, namely that people answer emails as they arrive, treating the technology as they would the telephone.(16) The typical US worker is interrupted by communications technology once every 10 minutes.(17) A 2004 study reported that both interruptions and the consequent task-switching caused by email takes a toll on workers, who tend to spend an average of only three minutes working on any one activity before switching to another.(18)

Negative health effects of this modern phenomenon were reported as early as 1989.(19) Studies showed that the increased pace of work leads to stress, (20)(21)(22) that employee stress can cause serious problems for the organization, (23) and that the pressure of email leads to a reduction in IQ greater than that caused by the use of cannabis (24). In a study undertaken by the University of London, “Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep.”

So, dear readers, if anything is in need of a shot in the arm, it’s got to be email.

Where are all the new ideas?

1 The Radicati Group: www.radicati.com

2 IDC, Worldwide Email Usage Forecast 2002-2006

3 Fortiva and Harris Interactive

4 c.f. Fortiva and Harris Interactive

5 c.f (1)(2)

6 http://online.wsj.com/public/us

7 IDC White Paper: The high cost of not finding information 8/2001

8 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/business/25multi.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5088&en=f295711cb4a65d9b&ex=1332475200&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

9 Australian Psychological Society, Email communication survey (2005)

10 Center for Disease Control & Prevention reported in Fast Company magazine 2/03 pg. 88

11 Data Communication 2/98

12 Institute of the Future, Menlo Park, California

13 AOL, (2005), Email addiction survey cited in Hair M., Renaud, K.V., Ramsey, J., (2006) The influence of self-esteem and locus of control on perceived email related stress pg. 2 (www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbe)

14 Westling, D. (2001) Gartner finds US vacationers addicted to email. Survey shows 42% of users check business email on vacation.


15 Jackson, T., Dawson R., & Wilson, D. (2001). The cost of email interruption. Journal of Systems and Information Technology, 5, 81-92

16 Markus, M. L., (1994). Finding a happy medium: Explaining the negative effects of electronic communication on social life at work. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, 12, 119-312

17 2005 Institute for Future & Gallop

18 Gonzalez, V. M., & Mark G. (2004). Constant, constant, multi-tasking craziness: managing multiple working spheres. In proceedings of the 2004 conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 113-120). ACM Press.

19 Levine, R.V., Lynch, K., Miyake, K., & Lucia, M., (1989). The type A city: Coronary heart disease and the pace of life. Journal of Behavioral Medicine (Historical Archive), 12, 509-524

20 Arndt, R. (1987). Work pace, stress, and cumulative trauma disorders. Journal of Hand Surgery, 5, 866-869

21 Houtman, I. L., Bongers, P. M., Smulders, P. G., & Kompie, M. A. (1994) Psychosocial stressors at work and musculoskeletal problems. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health, 20, 139-145.

22 Steptoe, A., Fieldman, G., Evans, O., & Perry, L. (1993). Control over work pace, job strain and cardiovascular responses in middle-aged men. Journal of Hypertension, 11, 751-759.

23 Calabrese, J.R., Kling, M. A., & Gold, P.W. (1987). Alterations in immunocompetence during stress, bereavement and depression: Focus on neuroendocrine regulation, American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1123-1134.

24 http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/news/0,12597,1465973,00.html

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