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Email @ Work – Boon or Bust?

Here is What Our Respondents Had to Say

To find out whether the rapid increase in the use of e-mail at work is a help or a hindrance, in 2002, we asked visitors to JobQuality.ca a series of questions about their e-mail use at work. Despite the many benefits of using e-mail at work, its use is not without its drawbacks.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that this survey is not truly random and, therefore, is not representative of Canadian workers as a whole. In short, the findings represent only a snapshot of what some visitors to the JobQality.ca website said about their use of e-mail at work. In all, 83 people responded to this particular survey.

For many respondents, e-mail has become an indispensable tool. Close to 40 percent of respondents said that they spend an hour or more every day reading, writing and sorting their e-mail. An additional 28 percent said that they spend between 30 and 60 minutes every day using e-mail to communicate at work.

The amount of time spent using e-mail at work partially reflects the finding that the majority of respondents said that they read most of the e-mails they receive. Indeed, two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said that they read ‘virtually all’ of their e-mail and an additional 20 percent say they read about three-quarters of their mail.

A large number of respondents said that work e-mail is generally relevant and useful. Close to 40 percent of respondents said that three-quarters or more of the e-mail they received at work was ‘highly relevant’ to their jobs. Moreover, two-thirds of respondents said that at least half of all e-mail received at work was useful and/or necessary to their jobs. Conversely, only about a third of respondents said that much of the e-mail received at work was not ‘highly relevant’ to their jobs and/or work duties.

Despite seemingly widespread complaints of so-called ‘spam’ mail that pitches everything from ‘get rich quick’ schemes to diet pills, very few respondents reported that they were bombarded by junk mail at work. In fact 80, percent of respondents noted that junk mail accounted for less than a quarter of all e-mails they received at work.

Using e-mail at work appears to have a positive effect on improving workplace communications. Four in five respondents said that e-mail ‘somewhat’ or ‘significantly improves’ communication in their workplace. Presumably, this is a reflection of the technology itself - it allows for easy and almost instantaneous dissemination of messages. For people in larger organizations, this will often translate into better communication between employees who work in different departments, in different cities, in different countries or even across continents.

When asked to respond to the statement ‘Email makes me more productive and/or effective in my job,’ close to three-quarters (71 percent) of respondents said that they either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement. Only about one in 8 (or 13 percent) did not agree. In a similar vein, 78 percent said they either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that e-mail helped them in the performance of their work duties. Only 6 percent disagreed. 

Despite the perceived benefits of using e-mail at work, its use is not without drawbacks. 

The results of our survey suggest that workplace e-mail can be associated with heightened levels of stress. For instance, 43 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they frequently experienced ‘email overload at work.’ About one-third said that they were not regularly overburdened by the amount of e-mail they receive and one-quarter were neutral on this point. 

Moreover, 65 percent of respondents said that they often felt pressured to respond to e-mails in a prompt manner, and 29 percent said that e-mail ‘frequently’ interfered with their work. 

On balance, then, it appears that the use of e-mail at work has positive impacts – respondents report that communications in the workplace have improved and that use of e-mail has helped to make them more productive or effective in their jobs. The majority report that most of the e-mails they receive at work are relevant to their jobs and most feel a responsibility to respond to e-mail communications promptly. 

For some individuals, however, the use of e-mail at work has a downside. This most frequently takes the form of a sense of being overloaded with e-mails and, for some, e-mail gets in the way of the performance of their work duties.

But, email, like the telephone before it, is just a tool. The key is for individuals to learn to use that tool efficiently and effectively. 


We would like to thank those visitors who took the time to complete this survey.