I hate email.
Sure the premise is brilliant — instantly send and receive messages and files anywhere on the planet. But humanity has proven itself unprepared to wield such power.
Email technology was invented all the way back in 1971, so why did it take over two decades for it to be shared with the rest of the world? Because “they” knew that it would destroy civilization as we know it.
This tool designed to streamline communication often causes more harm than good. Managers wonder why employees send so many unimportant emails, and employees have no idea why managers ignore them. Let’s explore some other ways to communicate more efficiently and avoid plummeting employee morale.
I am old enough to remember the carefree days before email. Back then, the human mind was only capable of processing up to ten messages a day. Instead of Facebook we had actual faces and real books, and people were more present and focused overall.
If you wanted to send a message you had to hand write it, proofread based solely on your knowledge of grammar and spelling, stuff it in an envelope, purchase and affix a stamp, and place it in a big blue box. All that work meant one thing — you didn’t send people crap. Back then people used the postal service to send important things, like children.
Children? Yes, that’s correct. When parcel service was introduced in 1913, at least two toddlers were stamped and delivered via US Mail. It’s true, I snopesed it. Of course, it wasn’t long before regulation was implemented forbidding the sending of children in the mail. Perhaps regulations will prevent similar absurdities in the world of email.
Sometimes I wish that the most advanced technology for delivering a message was still the carrier pigeon. Instead of writing long overly-verbose emails, people would be limited to the amount of space it takes to fill up that tiny scroll attached to a pigeon’s leg. Too much paper and you risk throwing off his flight pattern. Brevity in messaging would become a necessity, a prerequisite for any job.
I have decided to capture and train a flock of pigeons and create a new startup called P-mail. People can hire me to send out business messages on their behalf. Each message would be safe from interception by hackers or the NSA. The only real concern would be hawks and pre-teens armed with bb guns.
Admittedly the idea needs work as the world is unlikely to revert to 19th century technology overnight. But considering that the average US employee will send and receive nearly 45,000 work emails next year, we need a better way to communicate.
The problem lies not with the technology itself, but with its abuse. And the blame is shared between both email writers and readers.
In my short and marginally prestigious career, I have sent thousands of emails — many of which my managers did not bother to read. There is nothing more reassuring than carefully carving out the details of a project, proofreading, and writing just enough information to clearly convey a message devoid of ambiguity, only to receive a response 53 seconds later asking for information that was already contained in the original email.
Employees feel disrespected when they are ignored, which impacts employee engagement. In fact, a recent study by Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwartz discovered that “being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback — even opportunities for learning, growth, and development”.
To be fair, not every email is written clearly and concisely. Managers have to read through hundreds of poorly written emails each week. According to Doug Hess, employees can improve the likelihood of having their emails read and responded to by embracing the following tips:
1. Get to the point
2. Make the subject line count
3. Minimize or even kill the introductory paragraph
4. Include a summary if the email is longer than a couple paragraphs
5. Write interestingly but simply
You aren’t likely to see my fleet of carrier pigeons any time soon, but you can do your part to make email work. Take the extra time to ask yourself if the email is worth sending. Proofread and cut out the excess. And if you receive an email that follows those guidelines, take the time to read it and respond. Together we can make a difference.
David Mizne, is Content Manager at 15Five, the leading web-based employee feedback and alignment solution that is transforming the way employees and managers communicate. David interviews some of the most brilliant minds in business and reports on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to employee engagement.
Do you receive gibberish emails or are your emails being ignored? Tell me about it in the comments below.