Too Many Emails? How to Protect Your Business From Information Overload

An employee yells at his work phone for getting so many emails.

Email in the workplace can create information overload that can place a steady drag on worker engagement and productivity.

Email in the workplace can create information overload that can place a steady drag on worker engagement and productivity. In his book, "The Signal and the Noise," Nate Silver asserts, "The instinctual shortcut that we take when we have too much information is to engage with it selectively, picking out the parts we like and ignoring the remainder, making allies with those who have made the same choices and enemies of the rest."

Information overload can bring out the bad in most people, and yet we have never been more inundated with information through email and social media. Today, organizations face increasing levels of pressure to change. The response can often be to add volumes of work and information to employee populations that are already saturated with their daily responsibilities.

Are Your Employees Overwhelmed With Emails?

In the book, "Leading Change," John Kotter identifies "a failure to communicate" as one of the major factors causing high failure rates among corporate change initiatives. He estimates that in one month the total amount of communication reaching the average employee is roughly 2.3 million measured in words or numbers. Even more, Lifehacker reports that it can take people almost 25 minutes to regain momentum following an email interruption or other interruption. Long emails and too many communications can carry an opportunity cost. Signs that a worker is overusing email include:

  • Sending multiple reminders for administrative tasks, especially iterations of "final reminders"
  • Hearing the assertion from a sender that "nobody reads emails here"
  • Seeing multiple revisions and corrections distributed for the same email
  • Seeing multiple emails associated with activities that are not related to the business
  • Sending emails to all employees even when they don't apply to everyone or are just for fun

Thoughtful Use of Email Is Good Business

Communicating efficiently and reducing the volume of email in the workplace can make for good business. Here are ways that finance leaders can influence communication practices that support a more effective and efficient organization:

  • Make communications actionable — Information without activity is a luxury that most information-overloaded employees can no longer afford.
  • Make your headline the main pointÑ Assume employees will only read the headline. Does it contain the essence of what everyone needs to know?
  • Digest information — Are your support functions coordinating efforts to push information to managers and employees in a digestible format? Take the dozen separate emails that your employees are receiving each week and turn them into one templated, highly actionable and easily promoted email.
  • Write it for real — Drop the corporate speak and say it as simply and directly as possible.
  • Reduce reminders — Multiple reminders to take an action punish the responsible employees who have already done what they were supposed to.
  • Get selective about what is appropriate to share through corporate channels — Measure the cost of sending an email in the attention that it demands and the clutter that it could create.

By even a conservative estimate, focusing on email volume can add hours to employee productivity. Finance leaders, HR leaders and communication leads can collaborate on simplifying and standardizing messages to make communication more effective and efficient. Training for employees can help them manage inboxes more efficiently and help your organization become more productive overall.