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Email myths exposed

Email takes the rap for numerous workplace woes, from long hours and low productivity to poor communication between colleagues, but is its reputation as a time-waster unwarranted? New research suggests that it might be.

As part of an Acas-funded study, Dr Emma Russell, a psychologist from Kingston Business School, reviewed 42 academic and practitioner research papers and conducted 12 in-depth interviews with adults. Her findings explode three popular myths about email:

1 Email stops us from fostering high quality work relationships. The reality is that email only reflects and potentially accentuates existing cultures of trust.

2 We should limit ourselves to checking email a few times a day. In fact, we need to check and process email regularly in order to prioritise and control our work effectively.

3 Email is a time-wasting distraction from real work. In reality, only a tiny proportion of email sent and received at work is non-work critical.

On the basis of her study, Dr Russell makes 10 recommendations for improving email strategy:

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.

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