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6 June 2005 PR 05/49

Staff email use is costing UK businesses millions finds Loughborough University research

Research conducted by Loughborough University into email communication within the workplace has found that it is costing UK businesses millions of pounds each year in lost productivity.

The study, which was led by Dr Thomas Jackson in the University’s Department of Computer Science, started in 2002 and is due to finish later this year. The main aim of the project is to try and reduce the negative impact email has on workers and to reduce the amount of time staff waste when using it.

The research has focused on email use within a large UK company that has 2,850 email users. For the first stage of the study the research team developed and sent out an anonymous questionnaire to all staff within the firm who use email. The questionnaire was designed to highlight any inefficiencies or defects in the way that email is used, and it asked employees to specify how many emails they received on average each day and what proportions of these were irrelevant or unnecessary. Employees also answered questions that related to how they viewed email use within the organisation.

The second stage of the study involved analysing the data gathered from the questionnaire and using it to develop an email user training programme. The programme was tailored specifically for the firm to educate staff about email use and best practice. It included information on how to write more precise and clear emails, as well as highlighting the importance of only sending emails to those who need to receive it.

Overall the researchers found that after training, staff found emails they received easier to understand and therefore quicker to deal with, and that fewer unnecessary emails were sent.

The final part of the project was to identify the financial savings that could be made through better email use education. To try and calculate this Dr Jackson developed a formula.

Dr Jackson explains: “To determine any financial savings due to the training, the cost of reading email has to be determined. Using the data obtained from the questionnaire and the formula we were able to conclude that the daily cost of reading email for the firm we studied is £40,848 and the cost per year is more than £9.8million.

“The results from the email user training programme show that the company could save £3,071 per day and almost £737,000 per year on time spent reading email if workers were better educated about email use. This is an eight percent saving on the total cost of reading email and equates to £259 per employee per year.

“In conclusion our research has shown that going back to basics and educating people about the best way to use email has increased email efficiency and financially saved this firm thousands of pounds. Although the results are specific to this business, the study indicates how an organisation can become more effective, by reducing the cost associated with email use, through simple email training. The implication for managers in other organisations is that if their own staff respond to training in the same way, they would also benefit from an increase in employee productivity.”

The full findings of the research, which was funded by Loughborough University, are due to be published later this year. As well as aiding the development of email user training programmes, it is hoped the results of the study will also lead to the design of better email systems.

Ends

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Notes to editors

  1. The formula to calculate the financial cost of email use is:
    Cost of reading email = (t1 + t2)*w*n
    Where: t1 is the time taken to read all messages received (minutes)
    t2 is the total interrupt recovery time (minutes)
    w is the average employee wage per minute
    n is the number of employees within the organisation.
    The 2002 study followed previous research carried out by Dr Jackson at the Danwood Group in Lincoln, one of the largest independent suppliers of office solutions in the UK. This project started in 1998 and was funded by the company.
    For this research employees at the Danwood Group were monitored to see how they used email to try and determine what impact it has on their productivity. The study concluded that email messages do have a disruptive effect by interrupting the user.
    It found that most employees had their email software check for incoming messages every five minutes and that they responded to the arrival of a new message within six seconds. A recovery time between finishing reading the email and returning to normal work also existed. On average two and a half minutes was spent on each email received.
    Using this information the research team made a number of recommendations to the company that would allow more effective and efficient use of email. The recommendations are:
    • Introduce training to all staff to inform them of the number and nature of interruptions and the effect on the organization.
    • Restrict the use of email-to-all messages, and in particular reply-to-all messages. The use of more targeted email user groups may assist in this respect.
    • Set up the email application to display in the inbox the sender, the subject and three lines of the email, so that the recipient can quickly determine if the email requires immediate attention.
    • Set up the email application to check for email at no less than every 45 minutes. It may be possible to eliminate the automatic checking for email altogether if employees can be encouraged to manually check for incoming messages at set times of the day.
    • Reduce the prominence of interruptions through turning off the new email alert dialogue box and email sound alerts.
    • Encourage employees to use one line emails. If possible this should be done through the provision of an email add-on facility, but if this is not possible encouragement can be in the form of simple information and training.
    The recommendations are based only on the experience of the Danwood Group, however, informal enquiries of other companies suggest that the experience at the Danwood Group is not likely to be unique, and so it is believed that other companies would also benefit from putting these recommendations into practice.
  2. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 45% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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