Email use is a hidden cost for many businesses but a simple formula developed by researchers in the UK and Australia can help bosses work out how much of an employee's salary is effectively paying for their email use. The formula, reported in the International Journal of Internet and Enterprise Management, estimates that email use costs anywhere between £5,000 and £10,000 per employee each year.
Thomas Jackson of the Department of Information Science, at Loughborough University, and colleague Sharman Lichtenstein at Deakin University in Burwood, report that many employees continue to disparage email, despite finding it essential in many respects. Problems such as ambiguous and unclear messages, email "overload," security and privacy issues, and email interruptions all confound effective and efficient work practices for many working people.
The researchers have studied how email is used and abused at four organisations and determined how staff training and a well-defined email policy can help reduce the amount of time wasted on unnecessary email. The team has also developed a simple formula based on an average salary of almost £25k, the time taken to read all email received by an employee (given an average read time and an average number of emails per day for that organisation), the total interruption recovery time between reading email and getting back to normal work tasks and the number of employees in the organisation.
They found that for an organisation surveyed with approximately 3000 employees with access to email the cost to the company is around £15 million per annum, or just over £5000 per employee. For a bigger company with 6000 email users the costs were much higher at £64million per annum and well over £10,000 per employee each year. Similarly, the much smaller company surveyed with around 20 employees had a smaller overall bill for email usage, but the cost per employee each year was more than £10,000. It is worth noting that the true average salary is about £50,000 when national insurance, pension contributions, equipment, rental costs of offices etc, are taken into account.
The survey of company email use revealed typically that almost one in five emails was cc'ed unnecessarily to staff members other than the main recipient. 13% of received emails were irrelevant or untargeted and a mere 41%, much less than half, of received emails were for information purposes. Less than half of emails (46%) that required an action on the part of the recipient actually stated what the expected action was. 56% of employees remarked that email is used too often instead of telephone or face-to-face. Ironically, almost half of employees (45%) felt that their own emails were easy to read.
"These findings may help organisations to become more effective in managing their email communication systems," the researchers say. "It is recommended that communication managers or others responsible for email policy and management examine their email policies and develop a 'snapshot' of how their employees use email. Such information will provide an organisation with a useful foundation from which to build their training to increase the effectiveness of their employees," they conclude.
- Thomas W. Jackson, Sharman Lichtenstein. Optimising e-mail communication: the impact of seminar- and computer-based training. International Journal of Internet and Enterprise Management, 2011; 7 (2): 197 DOI: 10.1504/IJIEM.2011.039915
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