Published On: Tue, Jan 31st, 2017

8 Unexpected Problems With Email in the Workplace

Email is undoubtedly one of the fastest and easiest forms of communication there is in the workplace. It usually is better than trying to make phone calls, which often go unanswered and unreturned, and bad connections and thick accents often make it difficult to understand the person on the other end. However, emails can also be costly in terms of time, money, and productivity. Although most certainly a handy form of communication, employees should know about the darker side of emails.

Emails waste a lot of time. 

Emails are one of the biggest time wasters in the workplace. Employees spend more than one-fourth of their time handling their email inbox, including reading, checking, replying to, and deleting messages. That adds up to about 13 hours a week spent handling the email inbox. That’s more than enough time to watch an entire season of Orange is the New Black. Employees often check their emails impulsively; they intend to spend only a minute or two in their inbox, but end up taking 10 or more minutes handling their email.

Inboxes are often filled with spam. 

People often spend a lot of time deleting unwanted or unnecessary email. How many of the emails in your inbox are relevant to you? Try using a service such as Unroll.me to unsubscribe from all the websites you have no interest in.

photo/ Tran Mau Tri Tam

There is often a thin line between personal and professional inboxes.

If you can, try to keep your professional email address completely separate from your personal one. In other words, use your home email address to sign up for social media (unless it is related to your company), job-seeking websites, and other things that you might want to access outside of work. Keeping the two separate will save time because the incoming messages will be pre-emptively sorted; your professional work email will not be receiving your Facebook and Instagram notifications.

Employees are bombarded with notifications.

Your cell phone can easily become a huge distraction if you keep getting text messages and phone calls when you are trying to do something else. Similarly, your email inbox can  overwhelm you with notifications that you do not care about. Oftentimes, these are just spam messages or CC’d messages from your co-workers. At Task and Harris Interactive surveyed more than 2,000 enterprise workers and found that 43 percent of them reported that excessive emails were their biggest waste of time at work. According to an article from Forbes, employees check their inbox about 36 times an hour, receive about 78 business emails every day, and send about 37 emails a day. That adds up to a lot of wasted time.

Some emails can be dangerous.

In 2014, FBI director James Comey said there are two types of major companies: those who have been hacked by China and those who have been hacked but do not yet realize it. However, large corporations such as Yahoo, Facebook, and Toyota are not the only ones at risk. Even small companies with 25 employees face the risk of hackers. Be careful when handling emails from an unknown source, especially when the offer sounds incredible . In one of the most famous examples, a “Nigerian prince” wanted to transfer millions of dollars to a bank account; all he needed, of course, was your bank account number. While the too-good-to-be-true emails might be obvious, the bad ones might be less so. For example, you might spot an email supposedly from PayPal saying that your account has been hacked and that you should click a link and enter your password to fix it. When you get these kinds of email, always remember to hover over links and email addresses to see if they check out. Also, always check the URL and make sure it has the security symbol, a green lock.

Some information is vulnerable to hackers and thieves.

A February 2013 study conducted by Symantec found that half of respondents who had left their jobs, whether or not of their own volition, had taken private corporate data along with them. Furthermore, about 40 percent of those people planned to use that data to help a competitor. Sending a trusted co-worker the company’s server password or credit card information might seem harmless, but you can never know for sure if your co-workers have a hidden agenda. A spiteful person might use that information for their own means if they end up getting fired or let go from their work. Furthermore, if someone’s computer is infected by spyware or something similar, an unknown third party can easily get their hands on that sensitive information.

Employees are sometimes required to check their email when not at work. 

In 2013,  Chicago police Sgt. Jeffrey Allen filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city because he and other police officers were forced to use their Blackberry phones to communicate outside of their normal work hours. Allen contended that those who did so much as answer a phone call or read an email for police business when off the clock were eligible for overtime pay. To avoid such legal headaches, make sure the employees and managers are on the same page when it comes to this issue. Employees ought to know if they are expected to work overtime and how they will be compensated.

It is easy to forget about unanswered messages.

Have you ever read a message and thought “I’ll get back to that later,” only to forget about it until it was too late? This is a common occurrence because emails are usually a  lower priority than other forms of communication. For example, a phone call is immediate and requires you to attend to it right away. An email, even an important one, can easily be forgotten and left unanswered. This is why employees should schedule certain times during their day to answer all emails at once, and then return to them only after a set amount of time has passed.

Email can be a time sink and a magnet for so much spam and “just stuff,” that you might forget to respond to the ones that matter. It can blur the lines between work and home, as well as company time and your own. It can leave you vulnerable to hackers and scammers. As much as email has come to be relied upon for ease of communications, users must be aware of the inherent dangers of this innocuous tool.

Author: Stacey Smith

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