Email fatigue - are we becoming injured?

We are recruiting at the moment, and one of the interview candidates informed us, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t keen on email.

'You know,' he said, 'trawling through loads of emails and CCs to find the relevant information. Not a good use of my time…' He is a Millennial, and Millennials are known for considering email an ‘old school’ style of technology, but many Generation Xers hold the same view... and a few email-phobes I know are even older than that!

A devalued form of communication?

Email is cheap and easy. There aren’t the inherent costs and necessary care required by, for example, a letter or a fax. Nor is there the relative sense of purpose attached to a phone call - nowadays we don’t really pick up the phone to business associates or colleagues just for a chat, so calls have gained gravitas. Conversely, we shoot off an email as soon as a thought enters our minds. Email feels disposable and thus we often use it as a ‘holding’ form of communication - ('Just forwarding FYI') - or as a way of passing the buck (CCing everyone in the hope someone will know what to do), and so on.

A quick survey of colleagues and friends revealed some of the most often cited reasons for loathing email as a form of communication:

  • Being CC’d unnecessarily
  • Being CC’d into a group chain where everyone feels obliged to acknowledge receipt of the original email, even if they have nothing pertinent to add (‘got that’, ‘received’ and so on)
  • Receiving emails with attachments that are nothing more than company logos
  • Feeling overwhelmed by receiving very long emails where text isn’t broken up into paragraphs
  • Being sent updates several times a day by colleagues, when one summary email with key points would be far more effective
  • Receiving irrelevant marketing emails - when the company in question hasn’t bothered to research and target properly. The email form makes it too easy to blanket bomb.
  • Receiving endless internal emails that end up being little more than gossipy chat threads

Email Fatigue

It does seem as if we are all becoming inured to email. Twenty plus years down the line the novelty has worn off and, largely due to the sheer volume of email we receive on a daily basis, we are prone to switching off, literally and metaphorically, from incoming email - skim-reading the contents or sometimes filing messages away for later without even opening them.

The obvious solution is for each of us to pay a little more attention to our emailing habits, to think before we type...but perhaps that is simplistic (and optimistic).

Practical Solutions

To avoid the internal email pitfalls, you could consider using something like Slack for your team. It allows both group discussions and one-to-one conversations. In our company we have a channel for the London office, channels for individual departments and one that includes the whole team. Threads are thus easy to find, and it works as well for serious discussion as for ‘water cooler’ chats.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the avalanche of email you receive daily, try using a system like SaneBox. It’s an automatic email filtering and filing system that you can ‘train’ to your needs. Our MD swears by it.

If you use email marketing, there are some golden rules to follow to avoid having your audience tune you out:

  • Make sure you segment - segmenting users based on preferences allows you to better target messages, ensuring more relevant emails for your audience and better stats for you
  • Specific subject lines - be clear and concise, let people know what they need to know via subject lines that make sense at a glance
  • Break up copy with headlines - people don't always read your bodycopy; re-engage users with catchy/ relevant headlines in the email's body
  • Continuous testing - take every golden rule with a grain of salt. Split-test everything and see what works best for your audience.
  • Skip the "no-reply" email address - let users (encourage them!) to reply to your emails; it builds confidence and rapport and allows you to understand your customers that bit better

...Oh and check that your links lead where they are meant to. This very morning we received an email from a specialist marketing company who had failed to do this - cue a second, rather sheepish email later in the day with an apology and links that worked.

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