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The Mass Email Problem

Employees Spend Way Too Much Time Sorting Through Unwanted Messages.

By Thomas J. Roach

There is one email issue that takes precedence over all others in a company, including aggregates operations: unwanted messages. I have reported before that at some companies employees are spending two to four hours sorting through email, and most of that time is spent on messages that they do not need and do not want.

Once you eliminate SPAM, the main cause of email time waste is mass distribution lists. Email has been around for more than 20 years. In the early years, mass distribution lists were helpful because email messages were somewhat novel, and because everybody wasn’t using them.

Today these lists are a problem. In many companies everyone has access to internal mass email lists. When email authors want to make an announcement, instead of thinking about who needs or wants the information and typing in their email addresses, they can save time by sending the email out to everyone at the company. Lunch menus, meeting announcements, new hires, retirements, keys found in the parking lot, happy St. Patrick’s Day, anyone has instant access to broadcast a mass message.

While this seems to save time, it really does not. It may only take 15 seconds to read and delete the St. Patrick’s Day message, but in a company with 1,000 employees using email, that’s a total of 15,000 seconds or more than four hours of company time. If there are 10 messages like that a day, that is 40 hours wasted, and if there are 100 mass distribution messages going out to 1,000 people, it takes 400 hours for 1,000 people to read the subject line and the first sentence and delete it.

Do the Math
If you do the math, it takes less time to create your own email list of only the people to whom you need to send the message. If it is St. Patrick’s Day, that would be your friends. If it is a meeting cancellation, that would be the people invited to the meeting. Granted, if you found keys in the parking lot, it would be useful to send the email out to everybody, but the process needs to have controls.

Maybe one secretary is the designated keeper of the mass distribution list. You send that person an email saying you found a set of keys, and he or she uses the mass distribution list for you.

Another advantage to people making their own email lists is that it is easy to remove names. So, if you are getting announcements about the menu in the cafeteria every day and you brown bag your lunch, you can reply to the message and say please remove me from your list. One of the problems with mass lists is that at many companies you don’t have the option to edit them.

I believe this is a communication issue. IT people are adapting the technology to meet the needs of their internal customers. If people want mass distribution lists, the technocrats will create the lists and give them access. Someone in internal communication, maybe in the public relations department or human resources, needs to raise the issue. Perhaps a committee can be formed to make a recommendation.

Wasted Hours
In the meantime, if you find yourself wasting away hours sorting through email, I recommend learning how to manipulate your email program. My organization refuses to deal with this, so I have told my Microsoft Exchange program to identify the mass emails and put them in a special folder. Every day when I open my email, I go to the folder, select all, and delete every last one of my unwanted messages. It’s a really great feeling of power and relief.

Yes, there are some messages that I miss that I wish I had seen, but that number is probably less than the number of messages I missed because they were buried in an avalanche of unwanted messages.

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..