Are you overwhelmed by emails? Do you struggle to control your inbox? Do you spend evenings and weekends dealing with university correspondence?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be experiencing “email overload” – a phenomenon that leaves many academics and administrators feeling stressed and frustrated, a study suggests.
The survey of 471 staff at an Australian university found that academics tended to get more emails and to feel more overwhelmed by them than did support staff. Scholars were also less likely to employ email management strategies such as sorting correspondence into separate folders.
On average, academic respondents said that they received 45 emails every workday and read 22 outside working hours. They typically received 23 emails each weekend.
In contrast, administrators reported getting an average of 38 emails every workday and reading five after office hours. At weekends, they received 10 emails.
As for outgoing messages, academics said that they sent an average of 30 emails per workday – plus 12 each evening – and sent 10 every weekend. Support staff typically sent 28 emails on workdays but dispatched only three after work and two at weekends.
The four researchers at the University of South Australia also asked respondents to rate their email overload on a five-point scale (with five the highest). Administrators gave an average response of 2.52, while the average for academics was 2.97.
Both groups said they felt that they had received more emails than in the year before – with academics reporting the steepest rise.
The study lists a number of practices that are considered good email management, such as filing messages into separate folders and keeping the contents of the main inbox small. Administrators were more likely to use these strategies than were academics.
Things to be avoided, according to the article, include deleting messages after reading them and checking email at specific times only. Academics were the most likely to be guilty of these.
An unrecognised obligation
In comments, survey respondents complained that although they spent significant time dealing with emails, the activity was not considered to be part of their typical “workload”. Other concerns were the limited size of university inboxes and emails from students requesting information that was provided in written course information or in a lecture.
However, 31 respondents said they experienced no problems managing emails, and several enjoyed email’s flexibility and appreciated that it could be less interruptive than phone calls or face-to-face visits.
The study’s findings, say authors Silvia Pignata, Kurt Lushington, Jeremy Sloan and Fiona Buchanan, indicate that training for university staff, particularly academics, in email management may be beneficial.
Organisation-wide protocols on email use, particularly instruction for students on “appropriate” communication, might also help to improve the situation, they say.
“The expected benefits for employees would be a reduction in the volume of email, reduced email overload and more time to spend on academic and professional duties,” the authors conclude.
The article, “Employees’ perceptions of email communication, volume and management strategies in an Australian university”, was published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.
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