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Not sure if you saw my last email?

7 July 2020

A new survey by Adobe found that 19% of people checked work emails while at a meal with others, and it’s even higher (28%) among 25-34 year olds!  So before we enter into any discussion about work-related stress, 27% of people (and 34% of 25-34 year olds) checked personal email in the same circumstances. 

Call me old fashioned, but at dinner, I think that’s rude not stressful. But our ‘always on’ addiction is getting worse particularly when the survey found that more than a quarter of people checked their personal email while still in bed!

Having been in the industry for over 30-years I still remember when photo proofs were sent across to clients for review (by courier), the client would take a few days to mark up changes, consider and discuss and then return the files by courier. Today we email the proofs, get a call almost immediately and then share screens to make changes in real time. So things move fast and as a result we create a response expectation that is of our own doing. Is it out of control?

What caught my attention with the Adobe survey was they were able to identify the most irritating phrases in emails, which related to the over used passive-aggressive reminder “Not sure if you saw my last email” - it's no surprise to me that it’s the least favourite! Quite possibly I missed the email, (since I receive hundreds) but then again I get so much rubbish and unsolicited emails (junk mail), maybe I just can’t be bothered responding. And if I was going to respond, I would say; “Yes I did see your last email, I just haven’t got round to addressing it.” or “Yes I did receive your email, but it’s irrelevant to me, so I did not respond.” I’m also of the opinion you can always pick up the phone if it’s time sensitive.

Interestingly, almost twice as many people surveyed preferred to receive emails than to get a phone call, maybe because emails are easier to ignore. And this brings me to the paradox of electronic communication and our failure to communicate. If the point of an unsolicited e-mail is to generate a response, it clearly doesn’t work that well. It may stem from the difficulty of altering worker behaviour, you only have to look at open plan offices. An interesting study from Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, two Harvard Business School academics, set out to test this proposition and they found open plan actually resulted in less face to face interaction and email communication increased between 22% and 50%! Perhaps the predicted redundancy of the open plan office may be a blessing as we head into the post Covid stratosphere.

So as we head further into our ‘always on’ communication behaviour, remember you can be an anarchist in your own quiet way and reply in our own sweet time!

My opinion only, feel free to share yours!


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