What is a major cause of stress at work these days?
A demanding boss,
too much work,
not enough staff,
unrealistic expectations of your abilities?
Yes, all of these, and more.
However, one of the biggest causes of work-related stress is…wait for it…
And too many of them.
Caused by too much work to do and not enough time to do it in.
I decided to write an article to help all of you going through this, so you dont make the same mistakes I have over the years. It is about;
Email has been around for flipping years.
Well, it seems like years.
Though I hate to admit it, I remember when back in the mid 90’s emails were not used so much, if at all really, and memos went around the offices, and you ticked off your name on the list when you had read what you needed to read.
“Oh simpler times *sigh*”
Although completely irrelevant, please forgive the musings of someone who can remember back this far.
The upside of this was you didn’t get ruddy emails coming at you morning, noon and night from all over the place.
The downside was that the information you were getting, got lost somewhere if you had a big office, or because Kathy decided to put it in her drawer as it was a “safe place overnight” and you didn’t get the ‘important’ message for about 3 weeks.
This didn’t always go down so well with your boss as you were often ignorant of many issues you needed to know as the office ‘Christmas do’ or the office moving to another location and you being the only person who hadn’t packed their things.
Anyway, I digress.
Email has changed the way that we do business in this modern age.
And in fact, the way we communicate has changed drastically over the years.
We now have Twitter in our workspace,
we use Office 365 Microsoft Teams a topic platform.
We have SharePoint a cloud-based storage and sharing facility,
we have Skype which I love,
we have texting,
I think that is about it.
What I’m trying to say is, the way we communicate has altered, it is;
Someone sends a message at 2 pm with a red flag and is impatient if you haven’t responded by 2.10pm, they start hounding you via Skype (yes but I still love it).
As a manager, years ago your employee rang in sick and that was that.
Now you must hunt for the message from them, like a Who Done it Murder mystery or Cluedo game.
“yes, but I let you know!”
“but how? by smoke signals or carrier pigeon?”
Then you find a garbled, sick sounding employee on a message at number 65 on your voice mail or the 2,000th email in your inbox.
I miss my PA, I miss the note pad by the phone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite (denier of progress).
I Facebook, What’s App, Twitter and Tweet, I Skype like a good ‘un.
I know what Snap chat is (although maybe not young enough to be on it), I Instagram (I find it a bit dull), and I EMAIL like a man possessed.
This article is about Emails and really, Email stress.
In a Guardian article a few years back, these stats showed the seriousness of emails impacting on the modern world and white-collar workforce.
“6 trillion business email messages sent worldwide every year
49 minutes spent managing emails each day by the average office worker
4 hours spent managing emails per day by senior management worker – Yes that’s me!!
80% of emails sent which are actually ‘spam’ – unsolicited adverts, many of which are fraudulent or otherwise illegal
62% of workers who check business emails whilst at home or on holiday
10 points fall in IQ experienced by workers distracted by email (more than twice that found in cannabis studies)
20% of workers who are stressed by emails, that number goes up for managers”
So, emails and how we tackle them…?
This comes from the bottom of my heart and not… well… my bottom when I say this.
Emails are the biggest source of my stress at work!!
I really mean it. If you are working in an office, with other people, yes real people, not pretend ones you IT tech type person over there reading this.
I bet you hear this at least 50 times a day….
“I’ve got to look at my emails, I’ve got at least 50,000 in my inbox I haven’t opened yet”.
“I’ve got a stack of emails, I’ll get to yours maybe next year sometime, with a good wind behind me”.
“I can’t look at you, speak to you, interact with you or even breathe because I’ve got to look at my emails”.
Yes, I think you get the idea.
Emails are the bane of a working person’s life.
Well, at least they are in my world.
Emails and me, well we get along better these days because I do emails even on my days off, so they never creep up on me and take over my life.
But I dread going on holiday because when I get back, they are like Japanese knotweed, they creep up and take over and are a devil to get rid of.
But there you go.
But what can I do about it Jeff?
Well, have a look at these 5 ideas to eliminate email stress:
1. Emails repeat offenders.
Are you feeling trapped by your email?
Being bombarded by emails and a tsunami of communication can easily become stressful.
Perhaps many of these emails are irrelevant, unnecessary and well what did you say? Erhm distracting.
Immediate response times generated by the real-time feeling of our communication leads to an expectation that replies should be sent immediately. Amelia Tate talks about the same in her post where she talks about the pressure we put ourselves under to reply…“Read it and weep”.
I know, I feel this way; one comes in, I want to pop one back out.
A study by the UWS and University of Glasgow found the following statements true by those they spoke with:
Employees feel under pressure to check and respond quickly to emails, with some checking their inbox up to 40 times an hour.
Half the study’s 177 participants said they looked at their email more than once an hour, with 35 per cent claiming to check every 15 minutes.
More than a third – 34 per cent – felt ‘stressed’ by the sheer volume of emails they received and an obligation to respond quickly.
28 per cent said the pressure of receiving emails made them feel ‘driven’.
Lead by example.
Perhaps you dislike long, rambling emails where the sender hasn’t used paragraphs?
Maybe emails with vague or no subject lines make you angry? – by following a few best practice rules, we can try to bring those stress levels down for everyone.
We can send emails to others and maybe they will get the message but using bullet points. Being specific and to the point.
Have clear short paragraphs with lots of spaces.
A decent font size and style that others can read.
Sometimes I get emails where I have about 1000 words in one large paragraph lump, I can’t read it.
They ask complicated things and expect me to perform at my best and answer their questions.
Before I reply I then must go through and chop up the text into digestible chunks.
2. Reduce Inbox anxiety
Many of us feel pressurized to reply quickly, but do we really have to?
Have you ever broken off from something to deal with an email which could have waited? This is called being ‘motivated by inbox anxiety’.
It evokes stress-like symptoms in your body. You even get an adrenaline rush.
Madness, just because of an email.
I’ve had some jobs where I’ve not been sweating at all, but just by turning on my laptop and opening my emails has caused me to sweat and it isn’t pleasant.
I’ve found myself thinking “what is waiting for me in my inbox? What’s happened? What’s gone wrong?”
What can you do to reduce this anxiety?
Turn off your email alerts beep that happens when one comes into your box.
Never have them switched on all the time.
Especially when you are off work and trying to relax.
Work those emails in batches of an hour or so, break them up over the day.
I even schedule in time in my calendar, especially after being off for a few days. It says: ‘Emails catch up’.
I then do them first thing when I get in, and for shorter periods during the day and at the end for 30mins.
Tell your colleagues you do this and encourage this behaviour in your teams.
When I’ve been really stressed with emails I’ve done emails at weekends, late evenings, sometimes 12 o’clock at night and early mornings at 5 am etc.
Not healthy, not smart.
You might send an automatic reply saying you have their email (if you are in) and you will reply within 24 hours type of thing.
Manage those expectations.
Be consistent and communicative about your methods as a receiver.
Let people know about the new techniques you adopt.
If you check your inbox once a day, for example, why not add this information to your auto signature?
Educating senders can reduce their stress levels and also can help spread good practice across your organization.
Are you a kind Sender?
Now think about your behaviour as a sender.
Have you ever telephoned someone because they failed to respond to emails?
Do you fire off more emails to reliable responders? I do!
Do you like quick responses? Yes, I expect the same, as I do.
The truth is most of us probably do like quick responses, but although you may like a quick response to your emails, this expectation could cause stressful reactions from your colleagues.
Hasty responses can be badly written and confusing; they usually end up requiring more email traffic to explain the original message, increasing your workload and wasting even more time and effort!
Sending immediate replies encourages a culture where people expect rapid responses, which could lead to more traffic and more unnecessary work.
Think before you send…is it really needed?
Can you get up from your seat go over and talk to the person about something rather than email them?
This form of communication has worked for 1,000’s of year, it might still work. Go on don’t be shy try it.
Failing that make a phone call or instant messaging. Less stressful and more relaxed.
Why are so many people copied into an email?
Yes, we all do it.
If they all need to share the information or make a joint decision, but sometimes it is done to press the main person for answer or decision.
Sometimes it is all about passing the buck and shoulder sloping responsibility.
When writing emails, never write in all capitals. It is considered rude and aggressive and bad ‘netiquette’.
Make sure you use all punctuation and formatting appropriately and professionally.
How does this message make you feel?
Does this message add to or reduce your stress levels?
With a little care, the message could be communicated more professionally and with far less room for confusion on the part of the reader.
Remember, if you do not have the time to take care over an email, perhaps you should consider a different means of communication.
3. Making your inbox a friendlier place to be.
Delete, delete, delete.
I observe people’s inboxes all the time.
Whilst I keep my inbox down to about 5-6 emails I need to keep.
The rest I delete or reply then delete and save any I need to, in their own word doc based on categories i.e. HR, specific staff names.
My colleagues have hundreds of emails sitting in their email tray and can never find a thing.
Delete them and keep them in your deleted folder and give that a clean every 6 months,
You can always find them in there if you need.
Folder and files:
Create folders for saved emails.
For example, you could create a ‘done’ folder and move your emails into it once you have completed the associated actions.
This would leave only the ‘to do’ messages in your inbox.
Rules are automated actions that you can apply to your inbox.
For example, you could set up a rule that identifies an email by subject or sender as it is transferred from the email server and automatically files the message into a mailbox folder.
That subset of emails will be grouped together and easily accessible. It works for some, seems too complicated to me. I like one box I clean daily.
If your email relates to an upcoming meeting, you can add the information to the meeting by clicking on the email and dragging it onto the Outlook appointment.
This allows you to access the related information when you open the meeting invitation. All your notes for that meeting are there safe and sound.
Save any attachments in a relevant folder under that topic i.e. ‘Supervision for Sarah G’. etc.
4. Recognize other people’s email intentions:
Sometimes stress from emails can be because the intention behind the email has impacted on us.
Here are some things to consider reducing your stress, take a breather and not react unnecessarily.
Email as a substitute for action
Sometimes people use email as a delaying tactic, for example sending a request for unnecessary clarification. If you need to clarify a detail or specific point, get on the phone!
Catastrophising over weaknesses in emails
If an email seems abrupt, condescending, unreasonable, irrational or annoyed, it probably isn’t intended to be.
Most emails that come across as abrupt or unreasonable have simply been rushed. Have a conversation. Reduce the emotional reaction to that email.
5. Use your ‘out of office’.
This is like your PA taking care of your emails whilst you are away.
If you’re going on leave or you know you won’t be able to answer your emails for a while, set up your Out of Office notification.
When setting up your automated Out of Office message, make sure that you:
Tell senders for how long you will be out of the office. Give them a start and end date
Redirect the sender to another team member who may be able to deal with their request.
If you forget to set your Out of Office, with a message explaining where you and when you are returning. You can also leave messages on your Out of Office to respond to some repeat information seeking emails.
I often use as well, where I have a project or global information to be used as a reply to many emails, for example, refer them to specific policy or guidance, this responds to people and addresses the questions they were asking.
“If you are emailing about Jeff James Axe Your 9 to 5 free video series and about starting your own online digital business, click on this link.
Please come back to Jeff when he returns from leave on the 24th if you need anything else”.
If you don’t use your Out of Office you may receive an inbox full of unnecessary follow-up emails chasing your response.
So, there we have it, stress in the workplace, and one of the main stresses are caused by emails, often because we have too much work to do.
You must decide now really; can you take what you’ve read here and move this forward and sort out your emails for good? or do you just let things carry on as they have for years?
I have given away tips and advice about how you can turn things around.
How you can model good behaviour and practice and help not only yourself but your colleagues and teams.
I trust you, you will act, if you are reading this then you seem the sort of person to be an action taker.
Stress is no joke and if we can make your life just a bit better, well isn’t that worth it? Click To Tweet
If you want to read more from me about working online, developing a digital business and taking back control of your life, then have a look here on my blog on the Axe your 9 to 5 website.
Or if you want to see what education I am getting, that is changing my life around and getting me out of the 9 to 5 by building my own online business, there are 7 free videos that will blow your mind.
They will show you that there are alternatives out there that any person can achieve if they want to. Take action here for the videos.
So, what else do you do to reduce your email stress?
Leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Take back control.