Email literacy is a job skill like any other—some employees have it naturally, but most need a little training.
If your headaches at work came with subject lines, one of the biggest ones would read, “Re: Email burnout.”
After all, the average tech CEO toils for 14 hours a day, and email sucks up nearly a third of that time. One study found that Fortune 500 leaders spend nearly two and a half hours a day answering emails.
Why put up with that if you don’t have to? As a business leader, it’s up to you to set the standard for email use within your company—and establishing just a few simple rules for workplace communication could drastically reduce email burnout for you and your employees alike.
And now, a few easy answers to some of your biggest email challenges.
Email Problem #1: Answering Emails Too Late (Or Too Soon)
When sending a work-related email, 52 percent of people expect a response within 12 to 24 hours. So making sure your employees respond to all emails within 24 hours is a no-brainer.
“Think of the email relationship as a way to prove your competence and efficiency,” says author Dana Sachs, “If you are lax about your correspondence, people may rightfully assume that you are lax in other aspects of life as well.”
Easier said than done, right? If, like most companies, you conduct 25 percent of your business communications through email, your workforce might be letting prompt responses slip through the cracks.
Then there’s the flip side: those workers who can’t stop checking their email. Nearly a third of employees respond to work emails within 15 minutes. That might seem great, until you realize each of those emails has disrupted the employee’s workflow—wasting up to 20 minutes as the employee struggles to refocus on the task at hand.
– Communicate to your workforce a clear 24-hour rule for answering emails.
– Also communicate that employees should not keep email open at all times in order to avoid distractions.
– When responding to requests for information that isn’t yet available, employees should send a quick note letting the person know when to expect a reply.
– When sending an email that doesn’t require a quick answer, include a response deadline.
– For urgent needs, skip the email and go straight for a phone call, text, or in-person chat; send a follow-up email only if the person can’t be reached any other way.
Email Problem #2: Forgetting to Follow Up
When the average professional gets as many as 122 business emails a day, some of them are bound to slip through the cracks—a SaneBox data analysis revealed that only 6 or 7 percent of outgoing emails get answered within the requisite 24-hour window.
That’s why the follow-up email is a necessary evil. But actually remembering to follow up is the tricky part—especially when you’re also sending dozens or hundreds of emails every day.
– When you email someone about an action item you need to track, copy yourself and add a “follow up” label to remind yourself to check back later. Check the folder periodically and resend the original note if you don’t receive a response.
Email Problem: Too Many Long, Wordy Responses
In their eagerness to answer every email as thoroughly as possible, some employees mistakenly write lengthy tomes when a brief response would have sufficed. Some even spend more time crafting a response than the sender spent writing the original email.
“Most emails are full of stuff that people can skip,” says Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. “When writing an email, every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t.”
In fact, a recent study of email response times found that the most common emails contain only five words or less. More than half of replies are achieved in fewer than 43 words, while fewer than a third of emails ramble on past 100 words. It’s a good guideline for workplace communications.
– Set a target length for email responses, such as five sentences or less.
– Model the behavior by applying the rule to all of your emails across the board.
– If you start sending a lengthy response, pick up the phone or ask to schedule a meeting instead.
– If you anticipate receiving a lengthy response, remind the person a phone call is preferable.
– Consider communicating your expectation for a succinct response by adding a simple signature.
– When sending an email that doesn’t require an answer at all, include NNTR (“No need to reply”) or NRN (“No response necessary”).
– Cultivate a culture of shorthand for intra-office use so employees understand that brief responses like “Got it!” are not dismissive, but rather are efficient.
Email literacy is a job skill like any other. Some employees have it naturally, but most need a little training (click to tweet this). Start setting email expectations within your company, and watch how quickly you bounce back from the brink of burnout.
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