Use of e-mail continues to rise

"On average, how many minutes do you spend each day at work reading and sending e-mail messages?"

a. 20 minutes
b. 2 hours
c. 10 minutes
d. None

If you said, "2 hours," you are in good company. Research sponsored by Accountemps, a staffing company, recently asked 150 executives from the largest 1,000 companies the same question. The mean response was 108 minutes. Almost two hours at a keyboard…and this is from a group that probably never typed their own memos before 1994. Indeed, to say e-mail has changed the way we communicate is like saying Bill Gates has a buck or two.

Of course the beauty of e-mail is that it is quick and easy. You can communicate without having to pick up a phone. Let’s admit it, sometimes we don’t want to talk to Aunt Marlene or that jerk in Purchasing. It’s a great way to say what you want, when you want, without worrying about time zones and phone bills.

But e-mail can be a beast, too. For example, it’s changing expectations about turnaround time. The pace of business is faster than ever, with people expecting a quick response to their requests. Vacation is no longer sacred, "What do you mean you don’t retrieve your e-mails on your vacation?" The workday is longer than ever. If you don’t answer e-mails during the day, you have to keep up by answering them at night.

Whether you think e-mail is the greatest gift of the modern age or an e-curse from the devil, here are some tips that will help you manage your electronic mailbox:

§      Don’t glut other people’s electronic mailbox with junk. Jokes, cartoons or long missives about an epiphany you had on your vacation are just a nuisance. They fall into the same category as those cheesy offers for things we don’t want.

§      Don’t forward or copy your e-mails to a cast of thousands. It’s the equivalent of the old "CYA" and it’s annoying. Think about whom might actually be interested or affected by the information before you hit "send."

§      Beware the penmanship police. Just because it is easy to send an e-mail doesn’t mean you can afford to be casual or sloppy in your work-related messages. Recently, I received a request for information from a complete stranger. It was typed without a single capital letter. It doesn’t look professional and people won’t take you seriously.

§      Sarcasm and humor are tricky enough when you’re face to face. It’s riskier when you’re at the keyboard. Take care to be straightforward and take the time to re-read your message for any potential tone landmines.

§      Don’t send anything you wouldn’t want your boss or co-workers to read. Imagine your embarrassment when someone copies that catty little note you sent and it winds up on the wrong person’s desk or forwarded to the HR department. Remember that most companies have policies that tell employees they have the right to go through all e-mails if they suspect any illegal or unethical misuse of the system.

§      If your message is too complicated to spell out in an e-mail, it should be done on the phone or face to face.

§      Don’t hide behind your computer if you have a sensitive message to deliver. Nothing is worse than receiving a reprimand on your computer screen. Get up and go see the person or pick up the phone. E-mail should never be the cowardly way out of a personal conversation about a performance problem or serious workplace issue.

§      E-mail doesn’t replace the letter any more than VCR’s replaced the movies. There is still a time when a letter is better. For example, a thank you letter carries more weight and meaning when you’ve taken the time to put it on paper.

§      Balance impersonal e-mail with personal lunch meetings or networking meetings. It can be so seductive to communicate electronically, we forget to pick up the phone and say, "Tell me what’s new. How are you really doing?"

§      Beware the addictions of e-mail. Do you check your e-mail compulsively every hour? Do you get angry when you don’t have any new messages? Are you avoiding your job because it’s more rewarding to have a virtual life? It can be a black hole of wasted time. Instead, pick up messages several times a day.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.