19 June 2018

Email overload: The employee impact

Did you know that the average employee spends more than half their working day checking and responding to emails? This email overwhelm can have a serious impact on your workforce’s wellbeing and productivity – and we think it’s time to make a change.

Don’t get us wrong. Email is one of the greatest inventions we’ve seen in the workplace. But it was created to facilitate working, not become a job in itself.

According to a report by Adobe, from a self-reported survey of more than 1,000 white-collar workers, we spend an average of 4.1 hours checking our work email each day. That’s 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, and more than 47,000 hours over an average career. In fact, The Washington Post, even has its own calculator so you can crunch your own numbers.

Why does it matter?

From a productivity point of view, it’s pretty clear. Every hour spent in emails, is an hour that could have spent doing more valuable work. But more than that, employers have a responsibility for their employees’ wellbeing. This is particularly important in the hyper-connected world that we all live and work in. A world where mobile devices and their constant notifications have blurred the lines between work and play more than ever before.


One study by Lehigh University in the USA found a very clear link between email expectations and emotional exhaustion. But even without the science, we think we’ve all probably experienced email overload enough to know it’s a real issue that needs solving.


As Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report says: “As the line between work and life blurs further, employees are demanding that organisations expand their benefits offerings to include a wide range of programs for physical, mental, financial, and spiritual health.” Although we think that many companies are making strides in the right direction when it comes to wellbeing, for email overwhelm this approach could be ‘too little, too late’.

How can we stop email overwhelm?

With so many good collaboration tools out there that can help reduce email and improve communication online (like Microsoft Office 365, Beekeeper or Workplace) there is only one thing stopping us. The ability to create true behavioural change. Companies need to drive this change, and employees need to understand the reasons why it’s needed and embrace it.


But, here at Synergy, we know that companies are desperate to create this change. And not just with emails either, but also the ‘pointless meetings’ culture which seems to be prevalent in so many companies.

In fact, we’re working with several clients right now to help them to minimise email overload, adapt their meeting styles, and ultimately change behaviour in the organisation to make employees more productive and happy.

The four building blocks of change

If you’re looking to create a change in your own company, McKinsey’s Four Building Blocks of Change is an excellent place to start. This process is proven to influence employee mindset and behaviour.


  1. Fostering understanding and convictions – understanding the ‘why’ inspires people to support behavioural change
  2. Reinforcing with formal mechanisms – associations and consequences shape behaviour
  3. Role Modelling – people will be more likely to change if they see leaders, managers, and peers acting differently themselves
  4. Developing talent and skills – by developing new skills, we develop new behaviours


We believe that following these steps and creating a clear, considered, and engaging communications campaign which helps people own up and address the problem, is the only way to make the change that we all need to see.


Email has been the go-to technology for nearly 20 years, so this behavioural change is not something that will happen overnight. Remember that everyone will be on a different point of the adoption curve and that even a small step in the right direction is a good first step. Behavioural change is a long-term process which needs long-term commitment.

Positive psychology and appreciative enquiry tell us that we need to build from the positive, so if you’d like to hear success stories of how we’ve helped companies successfully create change please give us a shout.

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