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Inbox Addiction: Workers Check Email Anywhere and Everywhere

Inbox Addiction: Workers Check Email Anywhere and Everywhere
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

From the second employees get up in the morning until the wee hours of the night, checking email is a near round-the-clock activity, new research finds.

The study from Adobe revealed that white-collar employees spend an average of 7.4 hours each weekday checking their work and personal email, up 17 percent from a year ago.

In the morning, the vast majority of workers have checked their email well before sitting down at their desk for the day. The research shows that 36 percent of those surveyed check their email while still in bed in the morning; 39 percent give it a look while getting ready, eating breakfast or having coffee; and 10 percent check it as they are getting ready to leave or on their commute to work. Just 16 percent of employees wait until they get into the office to review their emails.

Once the day ends, 25 percent check their work email regularly until they go to bed, while 28 percent check it a couple times after dinner before unplugging for the night. That's still not enough for some, as 3 percent even get up during the night to see if they have new messages. The research shows that 43 percent only check their email if they are expecting an important message. [See Related Story: Email Etiquette 101: The Dos and Don'ts of Professional Emails]

When outside work, employees have become quite proficient at multitasking while reviewing emails. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed check email while watching television, 57 percent check it while in bed, 45 percent read them while in the bathroom and 44 check it while talking on the phone. Other popular activities workers combine with reading email include walking, commuting, having a meal with someone, working out, having a face-to-face conversation, driving and during a formal ceremony.

“This survey underpins that email is here to stay in our personal lives and in the workplace," Kristin Naragon, director of email solutions for Adobe Campaign, said in a statement.

Knowing the frequency at which emails are checked has increased the expectations of a quick response for many workers. The study found that when at work almost one-third of the employees expect a response to their email within an hour, with 16 percent expecting a response within a few minutes. Just 16 percent are fine with not getting a reply for at least one day.

The research discovered that texting has affected the way 70 percent of employees send work emails. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said texting has contributed to them making their emails more concise and 20 percent are now making them less formal. In addition, 42 percent have used an emoji in a work email, with the "thumbs up" being the most popular one.

With so much email use, it's only natural that some messages employees receive get on their nerves more than others. The email behaviors from colleagues workers find most annoying are when they:

  1. Use "reply all" when it's not necessary.
  2. Send an email when an in-person conversation would have been better.
  3. Ask them to email something they have already sent.
  4. Don't copy them on an email when they should have.
  5. Forward them emails they've already received.
  6. Copy their manager on an email unnecessarily.
  7. Criticize or provide negative feedback via email.

The constant email use has some employees making a concerted effort to get away from their inbox for a few days. The research shows that 45 percent of employees have tried a self-imposed email detox where they take a break from checking their emails. Of the 82 percent who stuck it out, the average detox lasted an average of 5.3 days.

Many workers saw a lot of value from their break, with 37 percent saying it made them feel liberated and 34 percent saying it relaxed them.

Nagaron said the research has important implications for email marketers.

"Marketers must adapt their approach to address email behaviors and avoid adding to the noise of the inbox," Nagaron said. "This means fewer emails and ensuring those sent are mobile-optimized, personalized and contextual to offer the best possible digital experience."

The study was based on surveys of 1,000 white-collar U.S. workers who own a smartphone.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.