'Pointless' email costs business millions


Pointless and badly written emails are costing UK businesses huge amounts of time and money, according to research by business-writing consultants Emphasis.

As the volume of email rises inexorable, the problem is being compounded not by spam but by a deluge of entirely unnecessary messages that reduce efficiency and drive down profitability.

"Much of this e-mail traffic is unnecessary," said Robert Aston senior consultant at Emphasis. "Often messages are copied to colleagues unnecessarily, or many people e-mail their colleagues when it would have been easier to pick up the phone - or even to walk to their desk and talk to them,"

According to Emphasis, some of the UK's biggest companies have found that they spend an average of £10,000 per person per year paying employees to read and write unnecessary emails. One FTSE 100 firm estimated that email costs it £39 million per annum.

"The immediacy of email is both its blessing and its curse," Aston continued. "It's made it possible for people to communicate badly in great volume. People often have to wade through 30 or 40 emails before they can begin their 'real work'."

But despite the costs of inappropriate email, few companies are doing anything to increase the efficiency of email use – although the response by lottery company Camelot has been to introduce "no e-mail Fridays".

Compounding the problem, Emphasis found in a separate 2001 survey that one in five emails are badly written or difficult to read, with waffle proving to be more of a problem than poor spelling and grammar.

"Many people use ten words when they could quite easily use three," said Ashton. "They forget that email can't be taken back or modified, unlike speaking on the phone, and they can easily open themselves up to libel."

Another undesirable email trait is the blanket use of the CC function as a security blanket to cover an individual's back. But by drawing large numbers of people into every task, this only increases organisational inefficiency, Ashton says.

More sinister is the growing use of the BCC (blind copy) function to copy more senior staff into messages without a recipient's knowledge and stab colleagues in the back.