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Chronicle

The Email Epidemic causing Workplace Woes - From ‘telepressure' to tone tension

Posted: 07 January 2015

Remember the days when email was a workflow and communication blessing? Well, if you're an office-based professional that memory is probably a distant one. Yes, we'd be hard pressed to navigate our day to day activities without email, but our reliance on it has come at a pretty massive cost.

When it comes to workplace tension, disruption and stress, there’s one common culprit - email etiquette. From frequency and the dreaded Reply Alls to tone troubles and non-replies, the once humble email is now negatively impacting office harmony and politics. With most workers being interrupted by pesky updates and requests up to 7 times an hour, it’s no wonder that stress and disruption is rife.

So how can we reconnect with the promise of email once more? Is there a better way to use, or not use, the power of 24/7, instant communication? There is indeed. It starts with getting to the bottom of what underpins poor email practice and perfecting the art of email etiquette.

Representing modern office culture - What does your email epidemic really mean?

Modern workplace cultures have undoubtedly improved and come to represent a new wave of engaged employers. However, some shady and aged ideas of office practice have still managed to slip through the cracks. And email connects them all.

Yes, today’s offices might be more relaxed, collaborative and open but our email hiccups and stress shine a light on some of the wobbly principles of workplace communication. What once offered freedom and open connection has become the source of alienation and frustration, so how can we create a better relationship with our inboxes and fellow employees? Well, let’s start with addressing the underlying issues and employ some good old fashioned manners.

‘Telepressure’ - Now Now Now!

The pressure of demands to respond immediately to emails have even got its own definition - ‘telepressure’. It’s a very real, very common stress that makes us all feel obligated to be on all day call, poised to answer every email instantly. Neglecting to be ‘on the ball’ and as relentless as email itself, can cause big time office tensions. Don’t be blind to these pressures, instead tackle them head on by creating a more laid back, acceptable attitude to email etiquette. Do your bit for the greater good.

Faceless communication.

It’s too easy to click send and switch off. Face-to-face communication can be an office rarity, and email doesn’t help in keeping the values of collaboration alive. Too many offices rely too strongly on email as the sole communicative tool available. Not cool. Email can be extremely effective and stressless when used in the right manner. There’s a lot to be said for morning meetups and getting off your bum and talking to your department friends in person.

Around the clock access.

It’s probably the number one trouble maker. Email is too relentless, too accessible. We’ve created a culture of 24/7 availability and contact that increases anger and resentment for out-of-hours emails. The last thing any worker wants the night before another long working day is a list of requests for the following day. It’s becoming tough for us to switch off, and respect time and boundaries.

Implement email check-in points or email control policies that restrict inbox access to limited times a day. Not only does it reduce distraction but it eases the stresses of demanding correspondence.

Email etiquette woes and winners - Slip ups and shake ups.

We’ve all been bombarded with impersonal, carelessly written emails that bring on the inbox red mist. From nuisance newsletters to smug out-of-the-office replies, we all fight a daily email battle. Good etiquette starts with education so here’s some of the woes and winners of great email practice.

The woes.

  • No more Reply Alls - Remove contacts that don’t need to be involved. You’ll see an instant rise in friendlier replies and reduce those red mist moments for sure.
  • Manic misinterpretation - Watch your tone. Anger and frustration is sparked by misinterpreting meaning and tone plays a huge part in that. Read your messages out loud to get to grips with your message’s tone. Harsh, quick sentences can imply rudeness so be savvy and take time to write a concise email.
  • Inbox fodder - No one wants to be plagued with GIFs and unrelated chit chat during a busy working day. It might seem funny and characterful but there’s a time and place for personal and professional. The use of email is lost these days so aim to connect not distract.
  • Grammar gripes - There’s no excuse for text talk and language laziness in emails. Yes, you’re busy but you lose out on meaning when you let standards slip.

The winners.

  • Organise your inbox - Use tools to prioritise messages and only use alerts for messages that really need it, i.e. the boss’.
  • Manage expectations - Set up and communicate email response times. We all hate a non-replier so set the boundaries and keep to them. Others will respect this, and even be more mindful of the emails they send.
  • Unsubscribe to bulk emails and inbox cloggers - Distraction isn’t the name of the game so get rid of everything and anything that clogs up your inbox. When you’re at work, you should be in work mode. Give yourself a fighting chance.
  • Keep emails short and sweet - 5-7 lines is the optimal length. Remember emails are perfect for brief, accurate questions and correspondence, not lengthy essays. Are you more likely to read and answer a sharp, easy email or a wordy, time-consuming one?
  • Rediscover the wonders of the Subject Line - Inspire responses and help your recipients organise their email activity but using email the way it should be used. Get into good habits and others will follow.
  • Consider phone or IM for sensitive topics - Email doesn’t have to be used for everything. Think of your recipient and the subject matter, behave accordingly. There’s a person behind most emails sent so identify with them, not the medium.

Be the change you want to see, email like you’d want to be emailed. It’s easy to sit back and moan about the shoddy state of email practice but with every poor one you send, you make a bigger dent in communication standards in your workplace.

Kick start a new culture off in your office. These days, there’s a lot of social norms attached to email that put demands on workers. Let’s break through them and see email for what it is - a communication tool. You run your email, it doesn’t rule you.

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Twitter snippets.

  • (Click to tweet) The once humble email is now negatively impacting office harmony and politics.
  • (Click to tweet) What once offered freedom has become the source of alienation and frustration.
  • (Click to tweet) We’ve created a culture of 24/7 availability that increases anger and resentment.
  • (Click to tweet) You run your email, it doesn’t rule you.