Overwhelmed by email


The average American employee spends about a quarter of their working day (around one and three quarter hours) dealing with email. Three out of ten spend more than two hours and almost one in ten (8 per cent) spend an astonishing four hours or more a day pouring over their inboxes.

Only a quarter say that their email takes them less than an hour to deal with.

The 2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies and Practices Survey from the American Management Association, Clearswift, and The ePolicy Institute also found that one in five companies in the United States have fired an employee for abusing their corporate email. Over half of US employers monitor e-mail, and three quarters have written e-mail policies in place.

Meanwhile three quarters of the 1,100 US workers quizzed for the survey said they had lost time in the last year due to email system problems. Almost a quarter say that they lost more than two days of work due to email system failures.

The survey also confirms that spam is a growing nuisance. More than nine out of ten respondents say that receive spam mail at work and nearly half say spam constitutes more than a tenth of all their e-mail. Seven per cent complain that spam represents more than half of all they e-mail they get.

But despite this, an overwhelming eighty-six percent of respondents agree e-mail has made them more efficient.

The 2003 survey, a follow-up to a similar survey carried out in 2001, found that email is now a major source of evidence in discrimination, sexual harassment, and antitrust claims, while e-mail is also regularly used to bolster cases, embarrass companies and damage reputations.

Some 14 per cent of organisations say that they have been ordered by a court or regulatory body to produce employee email. This is an increase of five per cent over 2001, when nine per cent of respondents reported employee email had been subpoenaed.

But despite the growing scrutiny from courts and regulators, most US employers are doing a poor job of managing e-mail business records and preparing for the likelihood of e-mail discovery.

The survey reveals that only a third of employers have written email retention and deletion policies in place. This figure is unchanged since 2001, even though five Wall Street brokerages were fined $8.25 million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for failing to retain email last year.

"Most employers drop the ball when it comes to educating employees about e-mail risks, rules, and responsibilities," says Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute.

"While 75 per cent of organisations have written e-mail policies in place, only 48 per cent offer e-policy education to employees, and merely 27 per cent offer e-mail retention / detention training." says Flynn. "On the upside, e-policy training has doubled since 2001, when 24 per cent of companies offered e-policy education to employees."

The use of technology to monitor email and control message content has increased since 2001, when a quarter of respondents reported using software to conduct key word or key phrase searches of email. In 2003, more than four out of ten employers report using software to control written email content.

And while an overwhelming nine out of ten employers have installed software to monitor incoming and outgoing e-mail, only a fifth are using technology to monitor internal e-mail among employees. According to content security consultancy Clearswift, co-sponsors of the survey, this is a dangerous loophole.

"Management's failure to check internal email is a potentially costly oversight," says Ivan O'Sullivan, Vice President of Clearswift. "Off-the-cuff, casual email conversations among employees are exactly the type of messages that tend to trigger lawsuits, arm prosecutors with damaging evidence, and provide the media with embarrassing real-life disaster stories."

"Whether you employ one part-time worker or 100,000 full-time professionals, any time you allow employees access to your e-mail system, you put your assets, future, and reputation at risk," stresses Nancy Flynn.

"Fortunately, by developing and implementing a strategic e-mail management program that combines rules, policy, education, and enforcement, employers can anticipate e-mail disasters, address employee misuse, derail intentional abuse, curtail e-mail blunders, and limit costly electronic liabilities."