Surging numbers of emails cause workers to spend countless hours sorting, filing, flagging and tagging instead of focusing on action items, according to a survey of nearly 100 organizations by data governance software provider Varonis.
The study, which questioned employees about their digital habits and vices, found that nearly a quarter receive between 100 and 1,000 emails. One in 10 workers now faces more than 10,000 emails in their inbox. The problem has grown so bad that 43 percent of those surveyed said they routinely abandon their inboxes altogether in favor of a virtual coffee break.
"We see a growing trend of people struggling, and in some cases even giving up on—or deleting—their entire inboxes. It also appears that overstretched employees are seeking more ways to clear their heads by taking virtual coffee breaks to browse the Web or social networks," David Gibson, vice president of strategy for Varonis, said in a statement.
The survey found that 40 percent of respondents spend 30 minutes or more every day managing their email, in addition to reading and responding, equating to 120 hours every year. To stay on top of the email flood, employees appear to take three different approaches. The majority, 44 percent, practice a hybrid of hoarding emails and filing emails. Hoarders—those who never delete messages—make up 17 percent of the workforce, while 34 percent of those questioned clear their inbox on a daily basis and file messages into folders.
"Whether they are distracted by a host of different media or simply slaving away to deal with their inboxes, if employees can't regain control of the volumes of work they are bombarded with, they are likely to make mistakes," said Gibson.
Nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed reported a mishap from an errant email, with 1 in 20 citing compliance issues from the wrongly sent messages, he said.
"The only way to throw workers a life belt is by utilizing automation to help them organize, manage and prioritize their email in a way that gives them visibility over what is important, when and to whom," Gibson continued.
As Gibson suggested, the survey indicated mistakes with email addressing and other messaging mishaps are not uncommon. About 62 percent of the sample responded with a story about an email accident, with the consequences typically limited to embarrassment. More serious outcomes occurred, however, including job loss—even at the CEO level. Survey participants also reported confidentiality breaches, compliance issues and even a corporate fine.
In an attempt to understand whether employees were applying any technologies to help organize and manage emails, Varonis also asked about the use of automatic rules, with less than encouraging results. More than 80 percent had few or no automatic procedures to handle their inbox, suggesting email management for most remains a time-intensive and hands-on activity.