As email has matured into the standard tool for modern professional communications, its shortcomings have made themselves much more apparent. In response, much more scrutiny has been placed upon the medium. It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that for all email has done for the ability of societies and industries to communicate quickly, it has also silently grown into a massive money sink.
From the time and attention that employees dedicate to communicating via email, to the potential security breaches and IP loss incurred by using email, there is plenty of room to improve the systems we rely on.
If you want to know what email is costing your business and what you can do to stop it, keep reading.
Email by the Numbers
When placed under the microscope, email isn’t looking good these days. The way email usage has grown over the last 20 years resembles a tumor, feeding on our attention and causing us a lot of problems. In 2006, employees were already answering an average of 50 emails per day, while in 2019, Radicati Group found that workers wrote an average of 126 emails answered on a daily basis.
According to a 2018 report from RescueTime which compiled the work habits of 50,000 users, half of users were checking communication apps every six minutes or less. The most common interval between inbox checks was one minute, while “more than one-third of people were checking their inbox every three minutes or less.”
That’s a lot of email. So much that it is hard to overstate the detriment to productivity that email oversaturation causes. Writing, checking, and responding to email has become confused with actual work, with employees spending up to 23% of their day engaged with it.
Time and Attention
On a per year basis, the disproportionate amount of time workers are spending on email has a real cost to it. In 2014, Dr. Ian M. Paul conducted a study on the matter, finding that his workplace was losing $1 million per year in lost time on employees just reading emails, let alone writing and responding to them.
The time spent communicating via asynchronous email has a deleterious effect on job satisfaction, causing knowledge workers a lot of anxiety and stress. Employees are generally finding themselves answering emails at home before work, late at night after work, and all day at work, causing them to have to work even longer hours in order to actually get their projects done on time. When job satisfaction goes down, turnover goes up.
Turnover is a huge cost for any company. Even the most conservative Gallup estimate puts the cost for a given company to replace a single employee at ½ their annual salary, and ranges all the way up to twice their salary. And that doesn’t even include the specialized knowledge and relationships those employees walk out the door with.
Keeping your employees happy and healthy is good for your bottom line, and overusing email has wide-reaching effects on job satisfaction. Distractions from work, anxiety about responding quickly while meeting deadlines, burnout from feeling overworked and having to be reachable after hours will all contribute to a high turnover rate, which ultimately will cost you lots of money.
Intellectual property (IP) isn’t just relegated to patents, brands, and methods that your company employs—it includes the whole of information held by your organization for the purpose of conducting business. All of the decisions, data, conversations, and methodologies related to your commercial enterprise are included.
According to an Osterman report, 75% of a company’s intellectual property is contained within email and messaging systems.
Every person on your team holds very specific, technical knowledge about the projects they’ve worked on, their team’s decision making processes, and the locations of sensitive, high-value contextual information. So much of it is contained within their individual email archives, which have notoriously poor indexing and, as such, are difficult to search.
On top of that, email message threads are archived separately from the projects they’re related to. After all, email clients aren’t generally considered to be good project management platforms. This means all of the valuable information related to project decisions is archived in an unsearchable email platform, decoupled from the context which makes it valuable in the first place.
If one of the managers at your organization decides to leave, their successor now has two options: 1) open the can of worms where they get permission from IT to sift through the old employee’s email archive, or 2) just start over, and reorient the entire team around a new process, and continue to tread the beaten path, potentially leading colleagues to feel frustrated and even burnt out.
Email is an inherently insecure medium. Email clients don’t generally provide the ability to automate mandatory security protocols such as encryption, VPN, and accepted devices without lots of extraneous software, hardware, and dedicated IT resources to enforce those strict security standards.
Think about it like this: In the absence of a proper database, most people are using Excel or Google Sheets to share data via email. Spreadsheets and emails have little to no permissioning features, so there is no way to control or track access to any given email, along with all of its attachments, links, and passwords.
In the event of a security breach, any sensitive data that the email address has access to is compromised. This can include proprietary information, corporate account information, or even worse, customer data. If your customers’ personal payment information is being sent via spreadsheet in an email, then the entire organization is at risk of a lawsuit, the cost of which is indeterminable. At the very least, you’ll pay for legal fees and retainers.
Avoiding Email Pitfalls
Email is by no means the most effective way of conducting business communications, but it also isn’t going away. That doesn’t mean you can’t mitigate your financial exposure. Obviously an organization will likely be using email to communicate with outside agents and contractors, but maintaining strict policies as to who is using email, and what files they’re sending will cut down on potential security breaches and the number of emails overall, which will lead to higher retention rates.
One of the best ways to drastically reduce email overload is to implement systems that can replace email for your internal communications between team members and departments, meaning the vast majority of your day-to-day conversations no longer require your inbox. This is one of the areas that Kintone does very well in.
For more information and ideas, Cal Newport’s book, A World Without Email is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to dive deeper into the how, what, and why of corporate communication problems.
We also have a free new ebook, Don’t Send That Email, designed to help your organization navigate a path away from email dependence and oversaturation.
About the Author
Mark is an avid writer with a ton of experience in journalism, experience design, performance, and event production. He also has impeccable taste in music. He currently lives and works as a writer/editor in the SF Bay Area. When he's not working, he's probably either spinning records or scoring goals on a bike polo court near you.