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Humans send over 200 billion emails are sent every single day, many of them at work. Whether we like it or not, email has become a part of our lives, with its own culture, etiquette, and myths. Emma Russell wanted to see whether these myths stand true or not.

She reviewed 42 academic and practitioner research papers, ending up busting some of the most common misconceptions, such as:

  1. Email stops us from fostering high-quality work relationships. Emails reflect our culture of trust — if anything, they accentuate it. If our email-work relationship isn’t working alright, then it likely wasn’t too good in the first place.
  2. We should limit ourselves to checking email a few times a day. This is probably the most commonly believed myth. In fact, the vast majority of emails we send are work-related, and checking them regularly (but not excessively) allows us to better prioritize and control our work effectively.
  3. Email is a time-wasting distraction from real work. Actually, only a tiny proportion of email sent and received at work is non-work critical.

It wasn’t just a review — after the preliminary work was concluded, Watson also recruited 12 working adults, carrying out interviews to assess the initial conclusions.

The research had another purpose: to identify work email strategies that have positive consequences on both productivity and wellbeing. The average office worker receives 121 emails and sends out 40 emails every working day. Having a better understanding of the process, at least in general terms, and implementing healthy approaches, can save a lot of money for companies, and save a great deal of worker headache.

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These are the guidelines they came up with:

For individuals:

  • Process and clear email whenever it is checked
  • Switch off email alerts
  • Use ‘delay send’ function when sending email out-of-hours
  • Review personal email strategies

For organisations:

  • Develop ’email etiquette’ guidance
  • Remove response time recommendations for dealing with work email
  • Support workers during periods of high workload
  • Provide extra email time for high volume workers
  • Provide email training
  • Consider using other communication tools

Dr. Russell said:

“This is the first piece of research to comprehensively and systematically review studies of how working adults use their work email. As such, we are now able to provide an evidence-based set of learning points for organisations and end-users that we hope will help people to improve their use of work email.”

The work hasn’t been peer-reviewed. Dr. Emma Watson presented her work on the 10th of January at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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