There’s something beautifully pleasant about shutting your computer for the day.
Until it comes.
The email at 6.30pm.
And again at 7.45pm.
And another, and another, and another; constantly distracting you from a peaceful evening.
It’s not just you. Time and time again, we’re seeing poor email etiquette and employees disappearing into the email-time-wasting-vortex, only to leave them frustrated, disengaged and ready to hand in their resignation.
This is the reason why at Cribber we are passionate about meaningful and effective communication. The following 10 examples have been taken from our experience in previous jobs and stories shared by clients.
Check them out and see if these bad email habits resonate with you and your teams.
1. Forwarded conversations
Have you ever received an email that absolutely should not have been forwarded to you?
Perhaps it was a colleague forwarding confidential information not intended for you, or even seeing colleague’s personal details in their email signature.
Unfortunately, this problem is especially bad now we’re so reliant on our smartphones, as it can be hard to see what earlier conversations are included in the forwarded message.
Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of bestseller Freakonomics, blogged about his experience getting a confidential email that he shouldn’t have received. Included was news that would have significantly increased a company’s share price.
The bad news is, companies have very little control over this huge security risk. Often their only options are to inform staff about email security, or reprimand individuals after a breach has already occurred.
If they catch it…
The fix: Limit forwarding especially from smartphones. Always scroll down to see what earlier messages are being included, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, delete all the text beneath the message that’s being forwarded.
2. Reply All vs Reply
On that note, reply all’s have a similar security risk. This happens when someone accidentally replies to the whole email list, not knowing who’s been cc-ed or bcc-ed in.
The major issue is that you lose control of who the message goes to.
But also, sometimes they’re just downright annoying.
There’s always that person who unnecessarily replies all to the staff email. Recipients don’t need an email that says ‘Thank you’ or ‘I agree’.
And they probably don’t care about your dietary requirements either.
The fix: The golden rule: If there’s confidential information involved - don’t reply all. If people don’t need to know or care – don’t reply all.
Image credit: The Couch Manager
3. Inbox as a to-do-list
When you arrive at work to 100 unread emails, it’s easy to adopt the habit of tackling each email one by one as they appear in your inbox.
Nir Eyal, a habit-formation expert, describes the psychology behind this behaviour - It feels SO good to tick things off the list, but in reality you’re not moving forward.
This behaviour is extremely inefficient because it means you prioritise what’s been emailed to you instead of what’s important.
The Fix: Use the Inbox Zero method: delete, delegate, respond, defer and do.
This means instead of going through emails in order of where they sit in your inbox, you delete the ones you don’t need; you immediately respond to messages that require 2 minutes or less; and schedule time in your calendar to tackle the ones that require longer responses or consideration.
Inbox Zero was coined by Merlin Mann, an expert of getting things done. Check out this talk he gave to Google employees talking about Inbox Zero.
Image credit: 43 Folders Series – Merlin Mann
4. Not targeted or not relevant
Did you know that unnecessary and irrelevant emails cost companies $1800 per employee in annual productivity?
This is one of the biggest causes of employee frustration - the abundance of the send-to-all lists and irrelevant FYI emails.
A message from IT to say a server is down in an overseas location; an update about a project you don’t work on; or a notice that you have 30 days to complete your performance review paperwork that you’ve already submitted.
A survey with over 2000 respondents found that being copied on emails not relevant to them was the biggest hurdle to effective communication at work.
Unfortunately, there’s no opting out of internal communication, so it’s up to you to read it to determine whether or not it’s relevant.
The fix: allow employees to opt out of non-critical email communication, like company-wide messages from committees or subcommittees.
Strictly manage internal email lists, or use a software, like Cribber that includes strategic targeting for communication related to specific projects, locations or teams.
5. Not measured
Information is king for companies and employees. Knowing that someone has read your message provides peace of mind and gives you more information to act on.
It also limits ‘the follow-up’ time. Think about all the time you’ve spent wondering whether someone received your email and delayed decision making while waiting for the response. If you knew they’d seen it and they haven’t responded, then you know your next action – perhaps to try another avenue like phone or face to face.
It also makes people accountable - if they know there’s read receipts on their email they’re more likely to respond timely.
It’s a lot better than being in the dark.
The fix: Use a communications tracking software like MailChimp or Cribber to know who’s read and understood your message.
6. Used for everything
The average employee receives 122 emails per day. And that’s the average! The email situation is well and truly out of control. It’s being over-relied on and used for anything and everything.
Image credit: Due by Monday
There’s great software available for updates, notices, and chat, yet we still rely on email instead of having the short term difficulty of learning a new system or breaking our email habits.
According to a survey of more than 1000 employees, we spend an average 4.1 hours each day using email. That’s 51% of the working week!
Now I know why I do so much overtime.
The fix: It’s simple. Don’t use email for everything. Use the company chat for casual conversation and use a secure communication or project management software for updates.
7. The formalities
Part of the reason so much time during the week is spent on emailing is due to the formalities.
Often these formalities are false, inefficient and unnecessary – it’s funny how we’re so formal with the people we work with every day, and even who sit next to us, just for the sake of email.
Image credit: Wait But Why
You spend the most time writing the email considering the formalities so it doesn’t sound too abrupt or impolite when requesting something.
The fix: Skip the robot phrases. Pick up the phone or walk over to the person’s desk – guaranteed it’ll be quicker.
If you’re worried about not having an audit trail of the messages, Cribber has this functionality, so it can help you out there.
8. Emails are boring
Our emails have become void of pictures, humour, creative ways to get a message across. Since when did we become so boring?
‘I don’t have enough time to be creative’, I hear you say.
There’s so much content out there that you can find a graphic or image for any message you want to deliver with a quick Google search.
Send your colleague an email that’ll make them smile today. I have no doubt they’ll appreciate it.
The fix: Save yourself writing 1-200 words and use graphics or a video instead. Even the use of emojis will make an email less boring. Get creative. Mix it up.
Struggling for creative ideas to make your communications more engaging? Check out our favourite ways to capture employees’ attention in corporate communications.
9. Passive aggressive emails
“Per my last email…”
“According to our correspondence on (date) you agreed to (something they didn’t do).”
“(Dave) can shed some more light on this.”
Similar to overusing formalities, you can waste a lot of time trying to make emails sound polite, when you really just want someone to do a specific task.
Even trying to decipher the passive aggressive phrases is a huge time drain.
The fix: Having a direct face to face conversation will help you get your point across effectively, air out the dirty laundry (if there’s any) and remove the underlying aggressive nuances.
Check out some of the best passive aggressive phrases and the translation to what they really mean.
10. Impacting work-life-balance
It’s no surprise, you receive another email at 9.35pm.
You’re mad and frustrated. You try to rationalise it in every possible way: ‘Your salary includes overtime’, ‘these are the expectations of your job’.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We just need to change our habits.
And it is possible.
With employees working less hours, it may come as a surprise that Germany and France are in the top 10 productive countries in the world.
The fix: Change our expectations and habits about when we should be sending and receiving email after hours.
Management have a role to play in setting the culture and boundaries, which will have a trickle down effect to employees.
Image credit: ErrantScience
The secret fix to it all
Having a culture where employees feel that they can switch off after hours, on weekends and holidays doesn’t make them more happy and less stressed, it actually increases productivity too!
I know it’s not easy, but I challenge you to break your bad email habits today.
We’d love to hear from you, let us know your favourite bad email habits in the comments!
At Cribber we’re creating a way to improve all these habits, and at the same time giving you a better way to communicate to your teams.
With no noise or constant distraction, easy targeting and the ability to measure engagement for continuous improvement, our clients say their teams are happier, better informed and more productive.
If you’d like to discuss how we can use email more productively or you’re curious about what we do at Cribber, don’t hesitate to get in touch.