Email epidemic – you can’t have your cake and eat it


When was the last time you didn’t check your email in the evening or weekend? We now live in a very different world that existed before the internet, email and social media created a 24 hour digital society. Not least when it comes to how we consume goods and services. If, like me, you can remember a time when shops closed early one day a week and all day on Sunday, then the contrast with the age of shopping 24/7/365 on the likes of Amazon and e-Bay couldn’t be starker.

Reading this article on BBC News makes me really question whether we have really come to terms with the employment implications of our own evolving consumer habits.

24 hour consumerism

I stayed up until 5am watching the general election results slowly come through. There were times during the night when there was more hot air than firm news. As a result, my Nexus 7 flipped constantly between news channels and a wide range of shopping and product websites as I killed time. At 4am I could have changed my house insurance, bought a book or DVD, ordered a new three piece suite or booked cinema tickets from the comfort of my sofa. And I reckon most people reading this article will have done at least one of these things.

Despite our ever increasing passion to consume 24/7/365 I question whether we have fully grasped the implications for how we work? Somehow, when we switch hats and become an employee, many still hanker for those days when work began at 9.00, finished at 5.00 and offered a full hour lunch break in between. With smartphones and email constantly at our fingertips, it can be very difficult to switch off from the working environment.

No longer nice little boxes

For many of us the reality is that work no longer comes in neat compartmentalised boxes. The boundaries are blurred and will get even more so as we increasingly work across time zones in global markets. As a great example, I often get emails from our international partners – or non-UK based clients – which need an answer within their working day. Which may have no, or very little, overlap with ours. So I find myself answering emails in some very unusual and decidedly non-office situations. It just goes with the territory.

What all this adds up to is the reality that in our new, digital world, the very mobile technologies that empower us as consumers place new bonds and demands on us at work.

Appropriate use of email

The issue then isn’t about the use of email outside of the work environment is acceptable. It is almost inevitable. It is more about three things:-

  • Is it appropriate? Can it really not wait until I am next due to work? Just because you want it off your desk should you invade my quality time? In fact are you just dodging making a decision?
  • Is it necessary? My biggest beef with email is that it enables the indiscriminate to embroil far more people than need to be involved. Whether that’s the initiator “spraying and praying” or the responder covering their back by cc’ing everyone they can think of on the reply.
  • Is email the right medium? Would a phone call, Skype session or even a face-to-face discussion be better? Email can be seen by some as a way of avoiding difficult conversations. Perhaps the “sacked by text message” horror stories being the pinnacle example.

I reckon if we were all good at applying these rules the sea of invasive emails would slow to a small trickle…

As a final thought, this “consumer v employer” dichotomy crops up as a regular issue in candidate experience debates. When we are a candidate we want, and indeed expect, a personal 1-2-1 relationship with the hirer. When we are doing the hiring do we reciprocate? Thus we break the first rule: put yourself in the candidate’s shoes…

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