Numerous Organizations Are Seeing More Problems Than Benefits.
By Steve Schumacher
Over the last year or so, there have been news stories about organizations cutting back on the use of email by their employees. This is kind of hard to believe since email is an integral part of the business landscape. Communication is such an important part of all organizations and email took over as the preferred method of communicating from typewritten memos, stenography, voicemails, faxes, etc. many years ago.
I still remember when my wife came home one day from her job with a large aerospace company talking about how she could send messages to other employees through her computer. We were amazed by this new tool and I wanted to hear all about how it worked.
Of course, now email is the default method of individual and group communication – horizontal, vertical, external, cross-functional, etc. Many business cards simply have an email address along with a person’s name. The thought of sending anything handwritten these days is about as foreign to many business people as is carbon paper.
So, what are the reasons organizations are looking to minimize use of email by employees? They are varied, but include:
- Misunderstandings are rampant. We all have learned that people that receive emails may have a totally different perception of the meaning of the words on the screen than the sender intended. How often have you forwarded an email from your boss to a co-worker asking “Can you figure out what this means?” We have learned to never TYPE IN CAPS, because that is yelling. We have learned to use emojis to help the reader understand the words. The phrase “read between the lines” fits perfectly with the challenges we face sometimes in understanding emails we get. When big projects with a lot of dollars involved are relegated to email, misunderstanding that email may cause huge setbacks to organizations.
- Emails are used as a crutch. One of the toughest things for managers to do is to criticize or discipline employees. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, especially when it involves performance and possible negative consequences. Anyone that has delivered bad news knows that it is best done face-to-face. Doing it in person is tough but it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, some people are afraid of conflict and use email to deliver bad news. They hit the enter key, breathe a sigh of relief, and think they have taken care of their responsibility. The reality is that delivering criticism over email compounds the issue.
- Not everyone checks email regularly. Younger employees today do not use email as much as older generations did and do. They prefer texting, online chat, or other quick and efficient methods of communicating. Some managers who rely on email find that their emails go unnoticed by their employees. It causes issues when the manager thinks those employees are shirking responsibility when the reality is email is not necessarily on their radar. Have you ever sent an email to someone, only to walk by their office two hours later and say “Did you get my email?”
Certainly, the speed, breadth and scope of email are major pluses of using it as the primary communication device in your organization. However, if you are starting to experience some of the downsides of email, it may be time for you to take a close look at how it is and is not used by your employees.
Ask your employees. Hold some discussions with employees or even do a survey to find out how people are using email and how they perceive it. Simply because you use it a certain way and have a high regard for it, does not mean others do. Take the time to show your employees you care about their opinions.
Investigate other electronic messaging options. In many ways, with young people, email is like Facebook – that is what their grandparents use. Set up a team of younger people and give them the assignment to find quicker, more efficient ways to communicate.
Do some training about communication. Teach your employees to evaluate the information they are trying to communicate. If it is just information that is not overly important or urgent, email is fine. The more important the information is, the more a person should at least use the phone. Highly important information should be done face-to-face.
Email is one tool of communication, not the only tool. Take the time to evaluate how information flows in your organization and make adjustments, as necessary. All aspects of your organization will benefit from that evaluation.