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Work Email Onslaught: Staff Have Nowhere to Hide, US Study Finds

Third annual independent study by GFI Software reveals that work-related email is disrupting everything from holidays to funerals as employees struggle to cope with volume and culture of ‘always-on’ working

GFI Software™ today announced the findings of its third annual independent study into email user habits, which revealed that work email is encroaching into the personal lives and free time of employees more than ever. Of those surveyed, some 58 percent admit to checking work email at least once a day in their personal time, up six percent, while 39 percent admit checking multiple times a day or in real-time through pre-work mornings, evenings, weekends and days off. Furthermore, 39 percent regularly check their work email after 11pm.

Following on from the findings of GFI’s inaugural 2013 study and the company’s 2014 follow-up research, this year’s survey examined how employees interact with email and the main obstacles to effective workplace email use. The biggest hindrance to their everyday email use, according to 37 percent of those surveyed: spam. In second place, 27 percent of those surveyed pointed to the habit some email senders have of unnecessarily CCing vast numbers of people, which creates high-volume ‘Reply All’ loops of unhelpful and difficult-to-navigate email traffic.

The blind, independent study was conducted for GFI Software by Opinion Matters, surveying 500 US workers from companies with up to 500 employees.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Monitoring of work email outside of work hours is inescapable, with 74 percent of those surveyed regularly checking their work email at weekends
  • A further 54 percent admit to checking work email while on vacation
  • One quarter (25 percent) feel compelled to reply to work emails within 15 minutes of receipt of an email
  • In total, 67 percent of respondents reply to work emails in under one hour, while over six percent take more than a week to reply
  • Down five percent from 2014, the survey found that 25 percent of workers surveyed use their work email account for personal activities. The drop suggests increased concern over company monitoring of workplace email and Internet use
  • Over 36 percent of work email users surveyed do nothing to organize their email, including archiving, leaving all incoming mail in their Inbox
  • Just under 13 percent have had an argument at home due to them checking work email during family time.

While most of those replying to email are motivated to do so quickly, those receiving email do not expect such a fast response. Only 11 percent of those surveyed expect a reply inside 15 minutes, while only 53 percent expect a reply in one hour or less, far lower than those actually responding in that time.

“Setting and maintaining realistic boundaries between work and personal life is important to health, happiness and productivity. This balance is becoming harder than ever to accomplish due to the growth of tablets, smartphones, and now even smart watches and in-car communications – all of which keep people wired into work even after they go home of an evening,” said Sergio Galindo, general manager of GFI Software.

“Companies can and should do more to address this and help staff achieve a sustainable work-life balance. Companies need to put tougher measures in place to tackle spam and malware, and to make archiving easier for people. They also need to set clear policies on acceptable use of work email, as well as regarding when to switch off. Employees need to know it is OK to let everyday work email that arrived after hours wait until the morning and that it is important to prioritize family time and relaxation,” Galindo added.

Social occasions are not safe from email erosion

The survey revealed a substantial level of work leaking into personal and family occasions. For example:

  • Nearly eight percent have gone through work email while attending an event at their child’s school
  • More than six percent have checked email during a wedding
  • Four percent have actively checked email while either they or their partner was in labor
  • …and three percent have checked email during a funeral

Email still the dominant communications method

For the third year running, survey respondents were asked to rank four business communications methods in order of preference. Email remains the most popular communications method, preferred by 39 percent of those surveyed, although this is down eight percent on last year and down four percent on 2013.

Face-to-face meetings come second at 29 percent, up seven percent on 2014 and 2013. Meanwhile, the telephone (both fixed line and mobile) is still the third most popular form of business communications, holding steady at 24 percent for the second year running, but down four percent on 2013. Instant messaging is still an unpopular fourth, preferred by just under eight percent of the survey group.

“Despite the seeming challenges and inconveniences of work email, people continue to view it positively, with 84 percent of those surveyed rating email a blessing rather than a curse. It is proof that email continues to be a technology people find convenient and effective both at work and at home,” Galindo added.

Comparisons with the UK

The research was also conducted among the same survey sample in the UK, with broadly similar results. Differences of note did include a lower proportion of users preferring instant messaging (four percent), a lower proportion of email checking during funerals and during child birth (both one percent), while more British workers (18 percent) have argued at home over checking work email out of hours.

A copy of the full survey results and an infographic can be found at: https://www.gfi.com/blog/hail-mail-or-fail-mail

About GFI Software

GFI Software™ develops quality IT solutions that enable businesses to monitor, manage and secure their networks with minimal administrative overheard. Serving an expanding customer base of tens of thousands of companies, GFI focuses on scalable communications and security platforms comprising network security, web management, anti-spam, patch and vulnerability management, faxing and archiving solutions. GFI is a channel-focused company with thousands of partners worldwide. The company has received numerous awards and industry accolades, and is a longtime Microsoft® Gold ISV Partner.


Copyright © 2015 GFI Software. All rights reserved. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. To the best of our knowledge, all details were correct at the time of publishing; this information is subject to change without notice.