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Research reveals the seven deadly sins of email

01.25.2014
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One of the enduring urban myths surrounding enterprise social networking is that it’s designed to kill off email.  Obviously that’s nonsense, but there persists a desire to see our level of email usage plateau, if not drop.  The clear perception is that it’s not a platform that encourages efficient nor effective communication.

A new study recently published by the University of Kingston has outlined what they regard as the seven deadly sins (when it comes to email at least).  The list, produced by Dr Emma Russell, encapsulate some of the worst email related behaviours found in the workplace.

“Back in the dial-up era, when going online had a cost implication, most people checked email maybe once a day and often responded to mails as soon as they read them. Now with broadband and 3G, unlimited numbers of messages can be streamed to you via your smartphone at any time of the day or night. However many of us haven’t adapted our behaviour to what can seem like a constant stream of mails,” Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in occupational psychology at Kingston Business School, explained.

Some of these behaviour changes are well documented.  For instance, it’s increasingly common to manage emails outside of work hours, resulting in difficulties in switching off.

“Some workers became so obsessed by email that they even reported experiencing so-called ‘phantom alerts’ where they think their phone has vibrated or bleeped with an incoming email when in fact it has not. Others said they felt they needed to physically hold their smartphone when they were not at their desk so that they were in constant email contact.” Russell continued.

The dreaded seven email sins identified were:

Seven deadly email sins:

  1. Ping pong – constant emails back and forth creating long chains
  2. Emailing out of hours
  3. Emailing while in company
  4. Ignoring emails completely
  5. Requesting read receipts
  6. Responding immediately to an email alert
  7. Automated replies

It should be said that the list was compiled after a study of just 28 email users across various companies.  It isn’t therefore an exhaustive list compiled after extensive research of a wide population of users.  Nevertheless, it seems to have unearthed some perennial bugbears that we’re all no doubt familiar with.

It’s no doubt the case of course, that many of these problems aren’t so much a result of a particular technology as they are about the inevitable frisson that will occur when human beings communicate with one another.  It’s unlikely that any tool used to aid that communication will ever be free from issues.  Nevertheless, understanding is the first step towards improving, so the study does provide further reinforcement of some of the email misbehaviours we should all strive to avoid.

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